A Faltering Easy Rider, Nov 2000

For two long months Mr Ehud barak has been butchring the Palestinian people in the territories and inside Israel proper with virtual impunity, if one does not regard the loss of power as punishment for his immoral and extremely unwise behaviour. By 1 December, Barak was arrogant enough to launch his new election campaign in the Israeli-Arab town of Taibe. The Israeli PM ate Hummus in a local restaurant, and refrained from eating meat, lest his Jewish religious voters are offended. The fact that Barak has no religious constituency did not bother him, since he does not have any Arab constituency either. Barak, typically, demonstrates complete confidence, and his personal conceit has not been affected by the recent truamatic defeat in the Knesset. The PM has remained aloof, a solitary figure, perhaps a bit pathetic.

His loving and admiring parents have raised him as a genius, and his brilliant military career seemed to prove their point again and again. Barak really feels that the ordinary yardsticks that measure the worth of mere mortals simply do not apply to him. In this, and in many other traits of character, Barak is the epitome of the Israeli-born “sabra” of his generation. As we were born in the same year, enlisted to the IDF more or less on the same day, and received the same (Labour movement) education; his values are quite familiar to me. I only regret, that he has not aquired the skill to reflect, to change, to realise that there is room for different people to co-exist with, for other opinions to listen to. The poor fellow is not capable of listening, and his detachment from reality is at times alarming.

His government has just killed 13 Israeli-Arabs in cold blood, and Barak still deems it appropriate to impose his presence on the humble eating-place at Taibe. I am sure he enjoyed the company of his fellow diners, as the restaurant was complerely evacuated from the usual Arab patrons, because of security reasons. This surrealist picture is suitable for an Antonioni film. An electioneering stant without the targeted voters, a geture of friendship without friends a visit to an Arab restaurant without Arabs. No doubt, this is the ideal world for instinctive racists like Barak. I write “instinctive” because Barak would never define himself as racist ideologically. He treats his own superiority as a miracle, a gift, without drawing ideological generalisations. After all, extending the idea of superiority from his person to others, even his fellow Israelis; can only detract from his special uniqueness.

Are the Israeli Arabs likely to forgive and forget? Is it in their best interest to ignore their recent experience with the man and his regime, and to rally once again to his cause? If they enable Binyamin Netanyahu or Ariel Sharon to replace Barak, would it constitute an emotional act of revenge rather than a rational response to the new political situation in the regions? The soul searching of the Arab voters (18 per cent of Israel’s electorate) will be long, painful and solumn, but the outcome will not be favourable to Barak. They ask questions, contemplate scenarios and analyse developments, but most of them seem to reach the conclusion, that Barak and his colleagues should not be trusted again. In my opinion, they have good reasons that can withstand the most rigorous test of rational thinking.

This country is very unpredictable, and even the term “election” must be used with exterme caution. The bill to dismiss the current knesset went almost unopposed through the first reading, but the second and the third readings are still negotiable. Conservative assements predict, that only 50 out of the 120 MKs are likely to return to the House after the next elections, due to be held in May 2001. Political survival outside the Knesset is almost impossible here. Former Mks are getting media access only on rare occasions, and many of them find life without television appearences dull and meaningless. Some of them will become unemployed and even unemployable. Therefore, they have vested interests in postponing the elections, and the tough talk about war and peace, society and economy, ideology and values is not always sincere. On 3 December most pundits on the Israeli State TV cast grave doubts about the supposed date for the new elections. Top Labour politicians are trying to save the government by appealing again to Ariel Sharon to join forces with Barak in a government of national unity. Barak’s principal ally in the labour faction in the Knesset, Eli Goldschmidt, told his astounded interviewer on 3 December, that he keeps pestring the old general: “If he throws me from his door, I’ll come back through the window”. This type of spineless conduct, aimed at the most dangerous politician in the region, is not even concealed from the Labour electorate. Arguably, they deserve their representatives.

The alternative contingency, favoured by Yossi Beilin and his fellow “doves”, is to bribe Shas (17 MKs) in order to reform a government without Likud. It is unlikely to succeed. Indeed, the Shas hacks are immensely bribeable, but they can not risk antagonising their extremely right wing voters. A centrist government with the religious parties is the option currently advanced by the Americans and the CIA, with the tacit blessing of Yaser Arafat, but this is a futile course to follow. Such Government will not be in a position to dismantle the settlements, and the ensuing disillusionment is potentially lethal for the whole region.

Therefore I believe that the general elections will be held during the year 2001, between May and October.

Leading Arab politicians in Israel have come to the conclusion, that a Likud-led government next year is inevitable. They claim, not without reason, That such government will be isolated internationally, and vehemently opposed by the educated strata of the Israeli Jews. “If a Likud minister of police had been responsible for killing 13 Israeli citizens, the Labour Party would heve organised mass demonstrations in Tel-Aviv”, said Azmi Bishara, an Arab MK, “ but a bleeding heart like Shlomo Ben-Ami can get away with it, both nationally and internationally”.

Barak ignored the Arab voters that gave him 96 per cent of their support in May 1999. Hence the hysteria among Labour politicians. I publish my weekly Hebrew column in Kol Hair in the Arabic language newspaper A-Senara, and since the elections fever here I was told, that my anti-Barak message is very harmful (for me, very delightful news). Similarly, Israeli Arab MKs were given some clumsy messages, that Arafat does not want them to topple Labour. These old tactics will not work. The spectre of Netanyahu (or worse, Sharon) will deter many Arab voters, and Barak is likely to get some 30 per cent there (double the amount indicated by recent polls). But this will be a far cry from his former performance in the Arab towns and villages. Barak, the easy rider, has become an enormous liability to the anti-Likud camp.

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