Today Labor Party Chairman Amram Mitzna is set to meet with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon for a discussion that has been touted as "critical" for determining whether the Labor party will join Sharon's next government.
The Labor party has made four demands of Sharon that its leaders — from Mitzna to Binyamin Ben-Eliezer and Haim Ramon — maintain must be met as a condition for Labor's participation in the next government.
Labor demands that the government immediately and unconditionally resume negotiations with Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority. Labor demands that in the event that these negotiations do not lead to a peace deal within a year Israel will unilaterally withdraw from the territories to allow the establishment of a Palestinian state.
Labor demands that all settlements in Gaza and isolated settlements in the West Bank be dismantled and their residents forcibly ejected. Finally, it demands that the government slash budgetary allocations to the Israeli communities in the territories.
Our media outlets have given prominent coverage to these demands. But there has been next to no discussion of their worthiness. Rather than examine the probable consequences of adopting these Labor policy dictates, the media has focused coverage on the narrow question of whether Ariel Sharon is "willing to pay the price" for the unity government he so desires.
But as coalition negotiations move into high gear, it is crucial to take a moment to consider what is being demanded.
Ahead of discussions in London this week with representatives of the EU, UN, Russia and the US (the "quartet"), Yasser Arafat announced last Friday that he is willing to appoint a prime minister for the PA. The statement was greeted with delight by the British hosts as well as by the EU, UN and the US State Department. The Israeli and US media have spent much of the past week discussing possible candidates for the position.
But according to knowledgeable Palestinian sources, Arafat is now putting together a list of demands that he claims must be met before he actually appoints anyone to act as prime minister. These demands are set to include a total Israeli withdrawal from PA areas, the release of all terrorists arrested by Israel over the past two years, and unimpeded movement of Palestinians throughout the territories. Arafat is set to demand that his prime minister's appointment be approved by a full session of the PA's Legislative Council.
Arafat is also set to demand that the appointment be approved by the PLO's Central Committee, most of whose members reside abroad and have been denied entry to the PA because they constitute security threats. In addition, since his announcement, Arafat has refused to reveal when he is planning on making the appointment.
The significance of these demands is that Arafat is trying to move international pressure from him to Israel. These demands will obviously be rejected by Israel, as their acceptance would constitute surrender to terrorism and blackmail and will endanger lives. But by forcing Israel to say no, Arafat hopes to be able to argue that Israel is responsible for the lack of reform in the PA.
While the Israeli media has given prominent coverage to PA actions to thwart rocket and missile attacks from Gaza (actions that, as residents of Sderot and Gush Katif will attest, have met with little success), these actions have gone unreported in the Palestinian media. The entire prospect of PA reform has received next to no coverage either. At the same time, incitement against Israel and Jews continues unabated in the PA's print and electronic media outlets.
According to Itamar Marcus, Director of Palestinian Media Watch, which monitors the PA's media outlets, PA television has in recent months shifted its focus from overt calls to murder Israelis to "mind-numbing indoctrination to hatred of Israelis and Jews."
Marcus attributes this shift to the IDF's success in thwarting terrorism. "The IDF's operations in the PA have vastly degraded the Palestinians' ability to carry out successful attacks against Israel. The PA does not want the people to become frustrated so rather than continuing the constant incitement to 'martyrdom operations,' they have decreased these calls and have increased their cultivation of hatred. This way, when the IDF weakens its pressure on the PA, there will be cadres ready to be incited to carry out attacks."
So, in spite of Labor's protestations to the contrary, there has been no movement on the Palestinian side that would indicate any ability to resume negotiations toward the signing of a peace deal. Arafat will not cede power and the Palestinian Authority he runs remains wholly committed to continuing its terror war against Israel.
Labor demands that if its proposed negotiations were to fail (which of course they would), that Israel finish building the wall dividing itself off from most of the West Bank, unilaterally withdraw and establish a Palestinian state within the year. Why such an abject surrender will do anything but inspire the Palestinians to continue attacking Israel is a question that remains unexamined by the Israeli media. Statements by IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Moshe Ya'alon that the Palestinians will view any unilateral withdrawal or evacuation of even the tiniest settlements as a victory are forgotten in the rush to bring Labor into the coalition.
Over the past few weeks IDF sources have stated repeatedly that the mortar and missile attacks launched against Israeli towns from Gaza are rendering the wall that divides the strip from Israel ineffective for protecting Israelis. Ya'alon himself has also stated that a wall around the West Bank would be much less effective in stemming terrorist penetrations than the wall around Gaza because the West Bank is so interconnected with the rest of Israel. IDF sources have also repeatedly pointed out that the only reason that terrorist attacks against Israel have diminished is because the IDF is deployed in most major PA cities in the West Bank.
So, aside from giving the Palestinians a sense of victory, Labor's demand to build a wall and withdraw will undoubtedly leave Israel much more vulnerable to attack than it is at present. But like Labor's demand to immediately restart negotiations with the PA, with these demands as well, there has been almost no public debate regarding the consequences of such a unilateral withdrawal.
Finally, Labor is unified it its demand that budgets to the Israeli settlements in the territories be slashed. Labor promises that doing so will somehow be a magic bullet for solving Israel's economic woes. This week, the Council of Jewish Communities in Judea, Samaria and Gaza released data on the budgets they receive from the government. The council reveals that the basis for the 2002 budget was identical to the Labor government's 2001 budget. The council further reveals that during the 2002-2003 fiscal year, tax rebates offered to residents of the territories were scaled back while those given to residents of the Galilee and the Negev were retained. That is, while residents of the territories have been forced by Palestinian terrorism to invest large sums in installing security systems for their communities and their homes, the government has been decreasing its financial assistance to these communities.
At the same time, OC Central Command Maj. Gen. Moshe Kaplinsky announced a few months ago that the IDF is training residents as first-response teams to defend their communities. Kaplinsky foresees this program, which has already been launched successfully in ten communities, reducing the IDF manpower necessary to defend the settlements by tens of thousands of reservist call-up days per year.
According to the capitulationist Peace Now organization, the government t
oday allocates $400 million to defending the settlements. If these numbers are accurate, this constitutes less than one percent of the annual budget. It is unclear how slashing this allocation will save the economy. But then, the Labor party has never been asked by the media to defend its attacks against the budgets for the settlements or to show how cutting them will in any way encourage economic growth.
It is equally unclear why building a 360 km wall around the West Bank that our best security experts believe will have little chance of enhancing our security is a reasonable expenditure. Just the first 116 km of this wall come with a price tag of NIS 900 million.
It is a mark of shame for the Israeli media that it refuses to engage in a discussion of the ramifications of Labor's demands for joining the next government. But it is the civic responsibility of the Israeli public to carry out this discussion all the same.
Citing the importance of the Labor movement, Prime Minister Sharon has repeatedly stated his preference for forming a unity government with the party. But the once vibrant Labor party has transformed itself into a delusional movement dedicated to spurring on its own demise, or as Binyamin Ben-Eliezer aptly put it, it has become "Meretz B." The old Labor party may well have been a worthy coalition partner. But the price of unity with Labor as presently constituted is too high. In the interests of true peace and security, Sharon must exclude Labor from his government lest the delusional child of David Ben-Gurion's party force the entire country to join it in its descent to oblivion.
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.