Sharon brings Labour into the government: An attempt to shore up the glaring crisis in the system

The Sharon government is held together by a shaky coalition of parties. In the past period some have left, bringing his government close to collapse. Now Labour has come to the rescue. With it it brings the leadership of the Histadrut, the trade union federation. It is an attempt to hold back the inevitable explosion of class struggle which will come in the next period.

Just one week ago Sharon was not sure he was going to survive as the Prime Minister of Israel. He faced opposition in his party. In August, the Central Committee of the Likud refused to permit Sharon to form a government with Labour. The question was now posed as to whether the Central Committee preferred elections – which would probably cost the Likud a significant number of its current Knesset seats – to a coalition with labour? Three months ago this question was not posed so sharply as it still appeared possible for the government to survive without Labour support.

Shinue, the right wing secular party led by Yoseph Lapid, left the coalition and, before this, the National Religious Party had left. Thus the opposition parties could bring down his government very easily. To survive he had to achieve several things. He needed to win the majority of the convention of his party, the Likud; to get the decision of the left Zionist parties, Labour and Mertez-Yahad, not to topple his government; and to convince his own party to accept a new government with labour and the religious parties, Shas and United Torah Judaism. At the same time Peres had to get the agreement of the leadership of the Labour party and also get the Shas to join him.

In spite of all of these difficulties he won. Last Wednesday, December 8, he knew he had won when Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, his main rival within Likud, announced that he was supporting the plan to bring Labour into the coalition, and had instructed his followers in the Likud Central Committee to vote in favour of the plan.

Netanyahu explained that, “We want a broad nationalist government and not a leftist government.” He added that the new government would include the Labour party, maintain Likud positions and achievements, protect the budget framework and the economic reforms policy, as well as sticking to Likud positions on the issues of the final status agreement and the gradual disengagement. “That will keep the Likud unified and the new government will be stable,” he said. Sharon’s associates said they were satisfied with Netanyahu’s support, which was added to the nearly unanimous support by Likud ministers for Sharon negotiating with Labour.

Sharon was still worried that Thursday’s vote at the Likud convention could have a low turnout, which could work against him. Still, sources close to Sharon had said on Tuesday, that given the nearly unanimous support among the ministers and the majority of MKs who favour a unity government, it would be “very strange” if Sharon did not win approval for his new coalition plans. Sharon was promising Likud activists that he would keep the Interior Ministry in Likud hands. The importance of this position is its power to restrict the right of the Palestinians. Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz, his deputy MK Ze'ev Boim, and Deputy Public Security Minister Yaacov Edri ,organized a Chanukah event as a form of a demonstration of support for Sharon.

On the eve of his internal party election Sharon was convinced of winning. He announced that he would present a new government to the Knesset within 10 days of the meeting of the Likud Central Committee. He knew that Labour Chairman Shimon Peres would win his party bureau’s formal consent to the talks that were coming up on Saturday night.

Speaking to reporters in the Knesset on Thursday, Sharon said that there had already been “contacts” with Labour. On Thursday, the Likud Central Committee authorized Ariel Sharon to form a new government with Labour, Shas and United Torah Judaism, handing Sharon his first major victory after months of defeats in various party forums.

The convention, which had vetoed Labour’s entry into the coalition just four months ago, approved it the other night by a majority of 62 percent to 38 percent, or 1,410 votes to 856. Turnout was high, with 77 percent of the convention’s approximately 3,000 members voting.

But Sharon still had to see how Peres, the leader of the Labour party, would deal with his own internal party opposition to such a government. Labour’s Central Committee, which met on Sunday, had to choose a date for the party’s leadership primary. It could have decided on an early primary date, which would have made it clear that Peres was losing and a coalition was less likely. However, the opposition to Peres within the Labour party was no different than the impotent opposition within the Likud party. The same is true for Shas.

Why did Sharon won? The answer is very simple: the Israeli ruling class sees him as their only choice to maintain their political power. The choice is either Sharon with Labour or a chaotic situation that could bring the far right to power, argued the editorial of Haaretz, the mouthpiece of the Israeli bourgeois.

On the eve of the Likud convention Haaretz published an editorial under the title “Mobilize for war”, addressed to those on the left who oppose Labour entering the government. It argued in very strong words that Zionist democracy demands a coalition government that would even lead to no other result than the end of the occupation.

“Anyone who proposes holding new elections is proposing a postponement of the withdrawal from Gaza, and perhaps even its cancellation.

“Behind the scenes, rabbis and settlers are collecting soldiers’ signatures on statements of refusal to carry out the evacuation, in an attempt to push kippah-wearing soldiers into refusing orders to evacuate the settlements. At the moment of truth, this activity could lead to violent clashes, perhaps unavoidable ones, between adherents of Zionist democracy and adherents of the messianic Kingdom of Israel, who refuse to accept the government’s authority.

“It would be better for Likud and Labour to enter this historical turning point together. Cooperation between the two parties would broaden the base of national agreement and reduce the religious nationalist right to its true proportions.”

“Those who view the very establishment of a unity government as a serious democratic aberration should understand that there is no more serious aberration in Israel’s democracy than its control over 1.5 million Palestinians to whom that democracy does not apply. The values of Israeli democracy today barely reach the checkpoints, and beyond these checkpoints, acts are done in the name of democracy about which most of the public would rather not know. A unity government is not generally advisable, and certainly not in a normal democracy, which needs an effective opposition as it needs air to breathe. But in the face of the anomaly of the ongoing occupation, none of this matters.

“The arguments against a unity government are valid for the moment after the withdrawal. But for the withdrawal itself, the public and its elected officials must mobilize as for a war and carry out the task with as many political forces as possible consolidated behind it.” (Haaretz, December 9, 2004).

The argument that Sharon will be the keeper of Democracy and will end the Israeli occupation brings to mind those who argued that Hindenberg would prevent Hitler from taking power. The new coalition government will continue the oppression of the Palestinians and it will accelerate the attacks on the working class in Israel itself.

The real reason for this new coalition government is the growing crisis of the system that is pushing the ruling class to unite against both the Arab and Jewish workers and poor. They know very well that the economic crisis is only deepening and that a future US defeat in Iraq would further exacerbate this crisis and put on the historical agenda uprisings throughout the entire Middle East.

A few months ago we wrote in Sharon the new Israeli Bonaparte – but for how long?: “In spite of the fact that Sharon’s government is a minority government, it keeps holding onto power. The reason is very simple: most of the left in Israel, and that includes Peres of the Labour Party and the “Peace Now” movement, supports his unilateral “withdrawal” from the Gaza Strip.”

“On the other side of the political spectrum there is the far right that criticizes his plan but does not dare try and bring him down. They all see him as the strong man whom they are allowed to criticize but they all feel the need to support him in order to keep some order on the edge of chaos. So what we have is a kind of right-wing parliamentary Bonapartist government that brings to mind Peron’s government.”

The question we have to ask is why the ruling class needs the Labour party so badly in this government. The reason is to be found in the fact that the Histadrut – the trade union federation – is now part of the Labour party, and the ruling class needs to tie the Histadrut to the government in order to try to prevent the class struggle from erupting.

It is not a mere accident that while Peres is acting to bring the Labour party into this government, Peretz is acting to form a national economic council under the auspices of the Prime Minister with the aim of creating a common economic policy of the employers, the government and the Histadrut leadership. In simple words, this is the old policy of class collaboration against the workers. They are afraid of the reaction of the workers to the severe attacks they are preparing for us. They are afraid of the anger of the 1.5 million people who live below the poverty line in Israel itself.

From the perspective of the workers this new government is only another step in the process of degeneration of the system that must be replaced by the working class coming to power.

There is some mild opposition to this government from Meretz-Yahad, the Arab parties and the Communist Party-Hadash. However, even these parties support – directly or indirectly – Sharon’s disengagement plan. The role of these parties is to make sure that the masses of Arab and Jewish workers and poor will vote for Sharon.

The working class needs a very different approach. It needs independence from the capitalist class, not collaboration with it. It is for this that the small forces of Marxism in Israel are fighting for. We are convinced that many who now support this false new messiah, will wake up when they become aware of the real meaning of such a government. These people exist today in and around all the parties, including in the rank and file of the Histadrut and the Labour party. Even more importantly, they exist among the workers who are going to have to fight for their survival against this government.

December 13, 2004

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