Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

8 Teves 5761 - January 3, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Opinion & Comment

by E. Rauchberger

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 agreement.

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 agreement.

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 Palestinians.

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 matters.

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.

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