by Tanya Reinhart
The Labor Party chair returned to the separation plan of Ehud Barak, which the prime minister has been carrying out energetically the last few months.
Just over a month ago, Amram Mitzna appeared to offer a new hope to Israeli politics. He was even perceived by some as the potential Israeli de Gaulle. During all the years of Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories, the Israeli political system has managed to generate only two alternatives: eternal negotiations while preserving the occupation and expanding settlements -- the Oslo model of the Labor party, or slow elimination of the Palestinian people -- Sharon’s model. The hope that many (including myself) attached to Mitzna was that a third alternative is possible as well, following the model of Lebanon -- Immediate withdrawal of the territories that most Israelis are willing to evacuate (all of Gaza and about 90% of the West Bank), and opening serious negotiations over the rest.
But by now, it is obvious already that a vote for Mitzna is a vote for Sharon. Behind his back, Sharon and Ben-Eliezer are already planning the next unity government. The exclusion of Yossi Beilin from Labor’s candidates list is often interpreted in the Israeli media as just a matter of a personal conflict between him and Ben Eliezer. But what was this conflict about? Beilin demanded that Labor steps out of the unity government, and even managed to gather substantial momentum in the party for this move, which finally forced Ben-Eliezer to resign from the government. Ben Eliezer and the Labor officials view Beilin as the one responsible for the unneeded nuisance of elections. As a first step towards returning to the unity government, they found it necessary to eliminate this source of trouble. In accomplishing this, they were not even worried about the potential loss of votes that will follow Beilin who moved to the competing party Meretz. Their own seats in the next government are guaranteed, regardless of how many votes Labor will get.
But this is not the only implication of the exclusion of Beilin and his circle from the Party list. Beilin is also the symbol of the Oslo road, which has been so far associated with the Labor party. As the Israeli media summarized the matter, in the Labor primaries, the party dissociated itself officially from the Oslo conception. I too have objected to the Oslo road, which I view as the establishment of an apartheid regime. But there is still a huge difference between the Bantustans which Rabin and Beilin founded in the occupied territories and the prisons camps constructed by Sharon, aided by Barak and Ben Eliezer, or between the Oslo apartheid, and “transfer”. In dissociating itself from Oslo, Labor places itself in the Sharon camp.
There are still those tempted to believe that despite his party, Mitzna could manage nevertheless to pull Israel out of the territories. But in practice, what we are witnessing is how the Israeli de Gaulle is turning into a new Ehud Barak. As Uzi Benziman reported in Ha’aretz, already at the end of November “Mitzna said that … His generous offers to the Palestinians, which adopt the Clinton plan from Camp David, depend on reaching an agreement that will put an end to the conflict. Only on this condition will he agree to an almost total withdrawal from all the territories, the division of Jerusalem, the dismantling of all the Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip and the Jewish settlements in the West Bank. (Ha’aretz, Nov 29, 2002). This is precisely the text of Barak with his “generous offers”. What blew up the Camp David negotiations was Barak’s insistence (opposed by Beilin at the time) that the Palestinian side declares ‘end of conflict’, under the conditions dictated by Israel, and without solving the problem of the big settlement blocks, Jerusalem, and the right of return. Mitzna promises now to take us back to the same point of departure.
If, as to be expected, the Palestinians would again reject this demand, Mitzna “is thinking in terms of a tough unilateral separation in which Israel will be the one to decide the line of withdrawal, in accordance with demographic and topographic considerations, and will see itself as free to send the IDF into the territories of the Palestinian Authority (or state) at any time to fight terror” (ibid). Under this scenario, Mitzna adds nothing regarding the evacuation of settlements.
Mitzna has been returning to Barak’s ‘separation’ plan in which a fence will be built around the Palestinians prisons. This is the plan that Sharon has been actually executing energetically the last few months. To make sure Mitzna will not err in reciting Barak’s text, the Labor primaries added to its top list of candidates Barak’s closest aid -- Danny Yatom -- who composed for Barak the “White book” against the Palestinians already in October 2000.
The roll which Ben Eliezer and Sharon designate for Mitzna is to convince the Israeli majority that wants to get out of the settlements that it is impossible to do this now, because the Palestinians are not willing to accept ‘end of conflict’. Barak had a sweeping success in conveying this message, but after two difficult years, his achievements are beginning to deteriorate. Now it would take a new dove, like Mitzna to convince the majority again that there is ‘nobody to talk to’ in the Palestinian side.
The right wing “national unity" party has coined the slogan that will be the mantra of the coming elections: “You can determine who will be in Sharon’s next government - Mitzna or Liberman”. But there is also a third choice: a strong opposition on the left.
Tanya Reinhart is Professor of Linguistics at Tel Aviv University. She is the author of Israel/Palestine: How to End the War of 1948 (Seven Stories Press, 2002), one of the most important books on the Israel-Palestinian conflict to date. This is an expanded version of an article that appeared in the Israeli daily Yediot Aharonot, December 22, 2002. Visit her website: http://www.tau.ac.il/~reinhart