Getting in Deeper
As election preparations go into full swing, the Right is
also readying to wage a large-scale battle against an
agreement Prime Minister Ehud Barak might sign with the
Palestinians. In a meeting held last week by the Knesset
Legislative Committee, right-wing Knesset members warned of
violence that could break out among Jews, and of an
international catastrophe that could lead to increased
violence by Palestinians in the Territories.
And they are right. With all due respect to Barak, the
elections are nearing, and even if he declares them to be a
referendum on his agreement (if an agreement is indeed
signed), they would not render such an agreement binding.
According to the law, as long as a referendum law has not
been passed in the State of Israel, any agreement has to be
brought before the Knesset for approval.
Furthermore, although until now a regular majority would
have sufficed to receive Knesset approval for an agreement,
the current agreement would require a majority of at least
61 votes--including an amendment to the law fixing
Jerusalem's borders--in three readings, with a minimum of 61
supporters in each reading, following the introduction of a
law by Yehoshua Matza (Likud) to safeguard Jerusalem.
According to the alignment of forces in the current Knesset,
the same Knesset that Ehud Barak made tremendous efforts not
to disperse, it is hard to see how he would be able to
garner a majority of 61 MKs to approve the agreement and
change the Jerusalem Law in three readings. And herein lies
the international catastrophe that Barak will bring about if
he signs the agreement.
The first scenario is less disastrous: Barak is elected and
the public gives him a mandate for the agreement, but when
he approaches the Knesset, he is unable to win approval for
the agreement there and to change Jerusalem's legislated
borders. The whole world is appalled, the entire nation
regrets being unable to implement the agreement, and Barak
is despised and humiliated, and is left with no choice other
than to disperse the Knesset and call for new elections once
again, rendering the current elections superfluous, merely a
waste of public funds. And who knows what the outcome of
such elections would be, whether Barak would be reelected,
and if so, what kind of Knesset Barak would find himself
with, and whether it would be a Knesset that would pass the
The Palestinians and the nations of the world would be left
on standby, waiting for the election results and for the new
Knesset to take shape, as various factions form and Barak
works to set up a coalition to muster a majority to pass the
Scenario B is more disquieting: The public sends Barak on
his way and Sharon is elected Prime Minister. His election
and Barak's fall signify that the populace did not approve
the agreement. In such a case Sharon would certainly not be
obligated to abide by the agreement. The Palestinians suffer
great disappointment, and their expectations shatter all at
once, their bitterness increases, and who knows what kind of
a wave of violence is in store for Israel as the entire
international community backs Arafat, who demands, and
rightfully so, that the agreement he signed with the Prime
Minister of Israel be honored. Any explanations offered--
that the Prime Minister was not authorized to sign such an
agreement, that the electorate rejected it, that the Knesset
did not approve it--would not be accepted by the
Palestinians or by European nations or even by the U.S. And
who knows what could unfold in the region and who would come
to our rescue.
The head of military intelligence, Brigadier General Amos
Malka, said last week during the Knesset Foreign Affairs and
Security Committee meeting that from the Palestinians'
perspective, events in the Territories have yet to "blaze
high," meaning the fires we have seen so far were not
particularly intense from their standpoint, and the flames
can burn much hotter.
A debate has been waged between the left and the right
recently over whether a prime minister who resigns can, from
a moral and an ethical, and perhaps even a legal standpoint,
sign such a fateful agreement, which holds repercussions for
the future of the State of Israel and for each and every one
of its residents. Without going into the particulars of the
debate, even if the Prime Minister is legally and ethically
entitled to sign the agreement, he is certainly not entitled
to drag Israel into such a catastrophic international
entanglement just because of a contention--which has not
even been proven in surveys--that maybe, just maybe, it will
help him win the elections.
Barak, and any other prime minister, should not be allowed
to gamble on the future of the nation's citizens. He does
not have the authority to bet on their security and well-
being. Why can't he wait just one more month to see whether
he will continue to serve as prime minister and whether he
has a coalition, and then go forward with an agreement?
Israel and the Palestinians have been waiting for so many
years, nothing will happen if they have to wait another
month or two.
But Barak is who he is: a seasoned troublemaker, and nothing
has changed since his resignation. Just as he has entangled
the country so far, and just as he managed to lose a
coalition of 80 Knesset members within just a year and a
half, there is no chance that he will change his ways and
come to understand that today, at such a time, he cannot
draw Israel into such a treacherous maelstrom.
The Other Peres
Just two weeks ago Shimon Peres, in the name of peace,
wanted Meretz to allow him to vie for the office of prime
minister. He emphasized that if Barak succeeds in bringing
an agreement before the elections, he would withdraw his
candidacy. If not, he would run to the finish because only
he is capable of bringing a peace agreement with the
Some Meretz members recalled that when Barak returned from
Camp David, Peres attacked him from the right, claiming that
he was running forward too quickly and conceding too much.
But the Israeli public still believes that Peres is the man
most capable of bringing peace. Rank and file Palestinians
also believe that if any Israeli leader is capable of
reaching a peace agreement, it is Peres. Based on these
sentiments, he tried to run for prime minister with the aid
of Meretz MKs.
Last week, when Meretz did not accede to his request, the
other Peres was revealed again, the Peres who attacks Barak
from the right. Following Barak's recent policy moves, Peres
claimed that Israel had conceded too much, too early. Is
this Peres' real position or were his comments made merely
to trip up Barak, his great rival? Or is Peres displaying
his knack for backtracking, a proclivity for which his rival
is also widely known?
The Arab Minister
Recently it has been pointed out on several occasions that
the Arab vote could decide the elections. The Arabs are
threatening not to come to the polls en masse, which would
hurt Barak's chances of winning. One of the reasons why
Barak is pursuing an agreement is the Arab vote, which could
work a miracle and bring him victory, despite all of the
surveys dismissing his chances.
Sharon, on the other hand, need only wait and hope that the
Arabs will carry out their threat and stay home on election
day or cast blank votes. His task is not to rouse them or
stir the coals. Beyond that there is almost nothing left for
him to do; his victory and conquest of the Prime Minister's
Office is almost guaranteed.
In order to prevent the Arabs from voting, the Likud
announced this week that if Sharon wins, it plans to appoint
the first Arab minister in the annals of the State. And not
an Arab minister who will handle Arab affairs, but an Arab
minister in one of the regular ministries. The Likud also
announced that it does not discount the possibility of
including one of the Arab parties in the coalition.
Sharon was not born yesterday. He knows there is no chance
an Arab party would sit with him in the coalition. It is
also hard to picture him appointing an Arab minister, but
before the elections, when such declarations could encourage
another few thousand Arabs to stay home and not go to the
polls, this is definitely an interesting tactic. The Arab
man in the street, just like the Jew, is willing to buy this
political bill of goods before the elections, and such
declarations can only help, and certainly cannot hurt
The Chareidi Vote
The Gefen Restaurant on Yechezkel Street in Jerusalem's
Geula neighborhood is considered a relatively new
establishment. Only six months, or perhaps a bit longer,
have gone by since it was opened. In the short time of its
existence it has earned a reputation, and its pleasant
atmosphere is bustling with activity and packed with
customers every day of the week, particularly Thursday and
Friday lechovod Shabbos kodesh. This week the
restaurant catered to politics, as well.
Tuesday night, after a long interview in the media, Ariel
Sharon, Likud chairman and candidate for prime minister,
arrived at the restaurant. He was hungry and was looking for
a good place to eat, and apparently Gefen's reputation had
reached his ears or the ears of his staff. Whoever wondered
what Sharon (not known for being particularly scrupulous
regarding kashrus) was doing in a restaurant with a
Badatz Eida Chareidis hechsher got an answer upon
seeing the meeting held inside the restaurant with a number
of chareidi public figures, as Sharon sat among them,
wearing a big black yarmulke on his head. The topic, of
course, was the upcoming elections and the chareidi vote.
Sharon would like to take the chareidi vote; he knows that
without it he will have a very hard time winning the
election, and it could even be said he would have no chance,
thus the meeting in the Gefen Restaurant was part of his
efforts towards winning over this sector of the population.
Word of Sharon's arrival in Geula travelled swiftly, and
despite the late-night hour, a large throng of curious
onlookers gathered. Members of Neturei Karta were on hand as
well, and denounced Sharon's presence on their turf and his
audacity in forcing his way onto territory that does not
belong to him.
Outside the restaurant, guarded by a large number of GSS
agents who ensured that Sharon's meal was not disturbed, a
debate over Sharon ensued. Some opposed Sharon and any
participation in the elections, while others responded that
the other candidate, Barak, is far worse.
In Jerusalem it wouldn't be the same without the famous
placards, and so the next morning they indeed appeared in
large numbers in the middle of Geula, according to the local
custom. Bon appetite.