SHARON LEAVES... LONG LIVE SHARON?
The Israelis face another choice. All political parties of the country have been put on full alert by the withdrawal of Avoda from the coalition, early elections and the following dissolution of the parliament. Center-left Avoda was the first to react. Amram Mitsna, mayor of Haifa, was elected its new leader after short but stormy primaries. A former general is ready to withdraw troops from the Gaza Strip, put the greater part of the West Bank to the disposal of the Palestinian National Autonomy having liquidated a number of Jewish settlements, and negotiate with the Palestinians regardless continuous terrorist attacks. All he needs to implement this is to become prime minister.
However, Ekhud Barak promised the same two years ago. At that time Arafat got frightened of such rapid transformation from a charismatic leader of the national liberation movement to the president of a tiny, poor and utterly corrupted state.
Nowadays, nobody in the Middle East doubts the inviolability of the Oslo agreements. Four fifths of the Israelis think these agreements have lost their binding power. Even the majority of Israeli Arabs presume there are no Oslo accords any more. The myth about a new Middle East turned out to be a mere myth. Even its architects reluctantly admit this. 77% of the Arabs from neighboring countries are against any cooperation with Israel. The others think that such cooperation would bring no benefit. 70% of the population is against globalization, pointing out that only Israel would benefit from it. The Arab world does not need a renewed Middle East, with a Jewish state forming its integral part in particular. It would be insensate to impose one's point of view on an opponent (or partner?) regarding the world order.
Left Israeli Palestinians used to make it in the past. That is why, in spite of Mitsna's left views, his main objective will be not concluding peace with the Palestinians but separating from them. He states this with the directness of a general. In case of a stalemate he suggests to build up a wall between Israel and Palestine. "We would be forced to make them build a Palestinian state and undertake full responsibility upon themselves," said Mitsna. "They blame Israel for everything... So, it is high time they created their own state and do something by themselves."
As for acts of terror, any Israeli prime minister will struggle against them approximately in the same way as it is accepted in the civilized world. In contrast to Sharon, this "hawk" and suppressor of freedom, the left-wing Mitsna will have an image of peacemaker and liberal.
As for ideology, wasn't it a leader of the national camp Sharon himself who declared the creation of a Palestinian state a fait accompli? Sharon views the conclusion of a peace treaty with the Palestinians as the only chance for Israel to overcome the economic crisis. So, where is the difference? And, as it is said in commercials, why should you pay more? Sharon obtained the post of a premier having convinced voters of his ability to stop terrorism. But the number of victims of terrorist attacks has soared as never before - around 700 people in two years. The level of life has fallen by 6%. The unemployment rate has reached record-breaking 10.7%. The negative economic growth will make minus 1.5% in 2003. If this is a way what is, then, a deadlock?
Since Sharon's character is quite famous, it is high time to switch our attention to his main political rival, who has appeared on the stage so unexpectedly.
Amram Mitsna was born almost 58 years ago in the kibbutz Dovrat. At the age of 14 he was enrolled to a military boarding school. He is the first Israeli who has graduated from the United States' Military Academy for Ground Forces in Carlisle. He has a master degree in political sciences, completed the Harvard course of international relations.
He served in the army for 30 years and was promoted to the rank of major general, conferred upon him by Yitzhak Rabin. He fought in four wars, received many military decorations. During the Six-Day War Mitsna, thrice wounded, substituted his killed commander. He ended the war with a medal and ... a beard.
Analysts think Mitsna's beard will play a key role in his pre-election campaign. PR managers count upon the Israelis' subconsciousness and their trust to the image of Theodore Gerzl, which is rather similar to a new leader of the Labour party. Mitsna will definitely benefit from it. But one can easily see potential problems of a possible coalitional tandem of Sharon and Mitsna, even without a deep Freudistic analysis.
Everything started back in September 1982, when major general Amram Mitsna wrote a letter to then Prime Minister Menachem Begin, where he disapproved of the actions of Minister of Defense Sharon during the Israeli invasion of Lebanon. Ariel Sharon demanded an immediate resignation of the rebellious general. However, Begin thought a stern rebuke would be enough. Mitsna is boasting of the fact that his letter caused setting up a committee of inquiry into the case of the carnage made by Christian Falangists in Sabra and Shatila. In the end, Sharon resigned and Mitsna did not leave his post. In 1987 he was in charge of the central military command.
In 1993 he left the army as he had realized he would not become the Army chief of staff.
At that time he started his political career by chairing the mayoralty of one of the biggest cities Haifa. Rabin is said to have given him this advice. During his office he managed to overcome the staggered economic crisis the city had been facing. He made Haifa appealing to investors, reconstructed old districts and built new ones, introduced computers to the educational system, set up the administration on absorption of repatriates, which became country's best one. Haifa received 75 thousand repatriates, more than any other Israeli city. It is the only city in Israel where buses go on Saturdays. Haifa witnesses no conflicts between religious and secular groups. Neither do Jews and Arabs conflict here. When there was the only Arabian demonstration in Haifa, Mitsna himself soothed the crowd.
It is the appropriate time to find out the ideological difference between two candidates for the highest government post. There does exist one. We will make another flashback into April 1982. General Mitsna was in charge of a rescue and dismantling operation of the town Yamit in the Sinai desert. Ariel Sharon had worked out the plan in accordance with a peace treaty with Egypt.
Hundreds of Jewish settlers climbed onto roofs of their houses resenting leaving. Bottles were being thrown at Israeli soldiers. Water was poured down on them. There were clashes for 4 days. When everything became quiet, Sharon ordered to level Yamit with bulldozers. Peace with Egypt became a reality... It was an icy-cold peace with no economic or cultural links. The countries do not have much in common... But there has been no war since then.
Now Mitsna suggests evacuating the major part of Jewish settlements from Judea and Samaria and all settlements from the Gaza Strip. Will it lead to a national trauma? No doubt, it will! Sharon is not ready to take this step. His main rival from the right camp, ex-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is now a foreign minister, is not ready for such developments either.
Nevertheless, it makes one think. 11% of members of the right-wing Likud bloc are for liquidation of all settlements, and 54% are ready to put up with their partial liquidation. Anyway, the terrorism has achieved what it wanted, i.e. the majority of the Israelis are going to vote for the right wing Sharon and Likud January 28.
It is economy that can undermine the present PM's popularity. Subsidizing settlements is not in a big favour among the Israelis, with one of five living below the poverty line. Secular Israelis do not like concessions made to ultra-orthodox circles - constant partner of the rightists in their coalition. In other words, if Avoda is supported by the poorest and citizens of "developing towns", traditional electorate of the Likud, the leftists have a chance if not to win then to loose with dignity.
What the coming elections have in stock for Russian-speaking Israelis? And who are those average Russian Israelis? They are center-right (somewhat righter than the average Israeli index) voters of sectoral, i.e. their own, parties. Their oldest party "Israel Ba-Alia" with Natan Shcharansky is slowly drifting to the right, which does not save it from loosing 1-2 votes (4-5 seats in the parliament). The right-wing bloc "Our Home Israel- National Unity" with Avigdor Lieberman can, on the contrary, increase its representation by 1-2 votes (9-10 seats instead of 8). However, unlike Lieberman, Shcharansky is ready to join any coalition in the Knesset. It will give the community its minister. Lieberman will accept the union with the leftists on no conditions. Consolidation of two Russian parties into a single one to be able to secure more than 50% of repatriates' votes is an unreal scheme.
The leader of the biggest faction will form the Cabinet, so the voter has to decide between the major course and sectoral interests.
So, let's start with grands.There has been reserved a real 29th seat in one of two biggest parties Likud for a Russian community representative. At least ten people aspire for this coveted place. The most famous among them is Zeev Geizel, who was an adviser to PM Netanyahu. At the beginning of 1990's Geizel set up a net of physic-mathematic schools Mophet. Its students were awarded scholarships at Israeli and international contests. This fact demonstrated to the Israeli establishment that repatriates could do other things apart from sweeping streets. The community does remember this.
A more complicated situation has formed in the Labour party. Its future deputies have already numbered themselves. At the same time Sofa Landver, who has been a Russian functionary of Avoda for many years, has found herself in a dubious 21st place following representatives of the Arab and Druz sectors (the party is predicted to get 19-20 mandates). Practically all political scientists gave a labour "reservation" to Roman Bronfman. Once he was a member of the Avoda Central Committee. He was among founders of the "Israel Ba-Alia". Later he became a leader of the Democratic Choice faction. By the way, it was Mitsna who in 1993 initiated a big political career of Bronfman, a Chernovtsy University graduate. They used to work together in a municipality of Haifa. Landver's publicly expressed hope that Mitsna's rival Benjamin Ben-Eliezer would be elected party's leader seemed to leave no chance for her. But politics is really a delicate subject. Nevertheless, Bronfman has not been offended. He is promised the fifth seat in an ultra left bloc "Meretz". His friend from the Democratic Choice Alexander Tsinker is less lucky. He is unlikely to get into a new Knesset, though he continues negotiating about creation of a center-left Russian party. It should be noted that Brofman is the first Russian politician who has gone leftward so far. There are very few voters for "Meretz" among immigrants from a country defeated by the socialism. On the contrary, its central alternative, the liberal and anti-clerical party "Shinui", is predicted twice as many mandates (11 instead of 6). A "Shinui" deputy Prof. Victor Brailovsky has long impressed Russian-speaking intellectuals. Moreover, the ninth seat has been offered to Doc. Eliezer Feldman, a famous sociologist.
- A certain "Progressive liberal democratic party" with an Alexander Redko has shown up the other day. First ten names in its list are Soviet immigrants absolutely unknown in political circles. All of them live in Ashdod and are related to one another.
Obviously, "Russians" have no chance in other parties. There will be no "Russians" either in a national religious "Mafdal" or in ultra orthodox "Yaadut a-Torah", or in Asian "Shas" (among its members are a "Georgian" Itzhak Gagula and emigrant from Bokhara Amnon Koen)...
Will Israel have a new premier minister Amram Mizna? Yassir Arafat has already called on him to reach "peace of the brave". Or will Ariel Sharon stay in office? He is still known as a hawk, though he is drifting away from the ultra right camp. These elections will be difficult for Mitsna with his unpopular initiatives. Provided Sharon wins, he will be on the horns with a dilemma: either to form a coalition with "Avoda" again or to join the ultra right wing, which will only complicate the country's position on the international arena. A lot depends here upon the Palestinians, i.e. terrorist attacks may undermine peaceful rhetoric of the Israeli left camp leader.
One thing is clear. The page of the current conflict should be turned over as soon as possible, regardless of whether the Israelis and Palestinians will live side-by-side or apart. By the way, the difference is small but important.