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http://www3.haaretz.co.il/eng/scripts/article.asp?mador=4&datee=4/9/01&id=116329


Where did Labor go?

By Gideon Levy


The Labor Party disappeared into thin air. No one remembers that it's the senior coalition partner, or that it's even a partner at all. Come to think of it, no one even remembers it exists. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's government has only been in place for one month, and its detractors' worst doomsday prophesies have already come true. Sharon and the Likud have swallowed up Labor, leaving no trace of the party. With Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer acting as Sharon's hit man, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres as his minister of propaganda, and the other Labor ministers as mute statistics, it is now evident how right the nay-sayers were.This was a tumultuous month in the occupied territories, a month of much blood and smoke, accompanied by a political stalemate - and yet Labor stayed silent throughout. It did the peace camp little good that the Defense Minister is a Labor man: Ben-Eliezer did nothing that a Likud minister would not have done; nor did he refrain from doing things a Likud minister would have. Ben-Elizer is bad news for the Palestinians and for the peace process. The peace camp reaps no benefits from the fact that he is, ostensibly, one of their own.

Quite the opposite. The message that having such a minister conveys is destructive to both the Israelis and the Palestinians. With such a minister, it seems that right and left in Israeli society are one and the same. Ben-Eliezer speaks just as belligerently against the Palestinians as right-wing spokespersons, only with poorer Hebrew. He will settle the account, his patience has run out, Arafat will be punished, the Palestinians will live to regret their behavior - these are but few of his lyrical expressions.

Just like the Prime Minister, Ben-Eliezer also objects to any negotiations "under fire" - another right-wing recipe to defer any possible political progress. This "left-wing" defense minister has already put out a couple of contracts on Palestinians. Launching missiles on and bombarding Palestinian towns is part of his daily routine, and it doesn't seem like he'll be stopping at that. His lip service on concessions on the closure and his desire to avoid causing damage to the Palestinian people is laughable to anyone who knows even a little about what life in the territories is like. No wonder, then, that Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Shaul Mofaz is highly pleased with his minister. With him and Likud voters, both.

Even more serious and shocking is the speechlessness of Foreign Minister Shimon Peres. The Nobel Peace Prize laureate, the unrelenting warrior for peace, who knows better than anyone that it is the first days of any government that determine its future and policy, is fading away before our very eyes, perhaps as the dying chord of a glamorous career. Peres has been only too meticulous in carrying out the promise he was caught whispering in Sharon's ear: "I'll say it like you told me." The government, in which he holds second chair, has been striking at the Palestinians ferociously, and all he can do is offer a few lame words to counter-balance the effect. Peres is now preoccupied with his visits to Greece (last week) and Turkey (this week), designed mainly to upgrade Sharon's image and alleviate public concerns connected to his name. Even in meetings with the Palestinians, he seems to abide by Sharon's ridiculous directive to refrain from any political negotiations.

But it was the Egyptian-Jordanian initiative for the termination of violence and resumption of negotiations, on which Peres hit rock bottom. This proposal contained nothing to which the Labor Party, at least in the guise it had in the previous government, objected. But both party and members seemed to vanish into thin air. They did not even so much as ask for a cabinet meeting on the subject. And all that Peres had to say on the proposal, the only available way out of the crisis, was: "What is it good for? Are we to say 'yes' to anything written by Arabs?" Thus Peres, on the proposal which he was to be the first to support. Peres has reverted to his old self of the pre-peace-knighthood days, with his spokesman now cautioning against adopting "ultra-leftist proposals", which were , so he says, the cause of Labor's electoral defeat. When the Ambassador to Washington, David Ivry, aligns with the most extreme right-wingers and inexplicably and disturbingly boycotts a meeting of Jewish leaders with the Egyptian President, Peres' only response is: "I wasn't consulted." As though Ivry did not report directly to him, and as though the Israeli ambassador's boycotting the Egyptian President was a mere trifle.

Ben-Eliezer talks militant, Peres fades away, and what about all the other ministers? Their voice will be heard only when they run for their next appointment. There is no telling what they think of their government's policies. While expectations from them, where human rights are concerned, have always been low, they now seem to be adjusting to zero activity in the political arena as well. The Prime Minister can rest assured: He has a strong, stable and mainly obedient government. Labor is going to give him no trouble, no matter what he does.


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