Sharon the new Israeli Bonaparte – but for how long?

In spite of only having minority support in the Knesset, Sharon holds on to power. This is because both the left and the right continue to support him, for they cannot offer an alternative. That alternative can only come from the working class.

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.

A few months ago a left wing demonstration of 150,000 came out in support of Sharon’s plan, even though this plan denies any possibility for the two-state solution that the left in Israel allegedly supports. They prefer to ignore the fact that behind Sharon’s plan is the assertion that the Palestinian Authority (PA) is not a partner to any deal and that Israel will give up Gaza in exchange for a policy of further expansion in the West Bank.

On Sunday, September 12, tens of thousands of Jewish settlers demonstrated in West Jerusalem against Sharon's plan. The organizers claimed that as many as 70,000 people attended the Sunday night rally, but police estimates put the numbers at 30,000 to 40,000. For the right this was not a sign of strength.

The rally was organized by the powerful council of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip - known as YISHA - and held under the slogan: "The disengagement plan is tearing the nation apart." Many demonstrators held placards with slogans such as, "Sharon is a dictator" and "You must resign now". One sign called Sharon a "traitor", but the organizers hastened to take that one down.

It is true that Sharon does not respect democratic rights or human lives, bur neither do the far right settlers who are simply cynical demagogues.

Thus the demo criticized Sharon’s plan but the organizers made it clear that they are standing behind the Sharon government in spite of their anger with the plan. As a matter of fact the fire of the organizers was aimed at the National Religious Party, known as Mafdal, and they called on its leaders to withdraw from the government immediately.

In their typical cynical demagogy during the rally, settler leaders castigated Sharon's plan, calling it "ethnic cleansing of Jews" and "a crime against humanity". The very same leaders, including prominent rabbis, call on the Israeli government to expel Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza and, if necessary, physically annihilate them! Last week, in fact, a group of YISHA's rabbis issued a religious edict urging the Israeli army not to spare Palestinian civilians in what they called the "war on terror".

After the rally thousands of protesters holding candles walked to Sharon's residence, demanding that he "listen to the voice of the people". This act shows once again that in spite of their anger they continue to give Sharon critical support. They understand that he is their man and on this point they share the same feelings as most of the Zionist “left”.

According to opinion polls, as many as 70% of Israeli citizens support the disengagement plan to pull out from Gaza. However, Gush Emunim (The Bloc of the Faithful), to which most settlers are affiliated, opposes any arrangement with the Palestinians involving territorial concessions.

This movement supports the idea that all mandatory Palestine (extending from the River Jordan to the Mediterranean) belongs exclusively to the Jews on the basis of God’s promise to mythical Abraham and that no Israeli government has the right or authority to "give up" any part of the land of Israel to "goyem" (a derogatory term for non-Jews).

Playing his role as a classic parliamentary Bonaparte, Sharon lashed out at his right-wing opponents, accusing them of trying to incite civil war. He called on his cabinet ministers to do what was necessary to foil the settlers' threats. The prime minister was referring to warnings voiced by some right-wing activists this week that settlers would confront Israeli soldiers and security personnel trying to evict them from their homes in the Gaza settlements.

Some of the right-wing leaders have gone as far as calling on Sharon to either organize a referendum on his plan to withdraw from Gaza or go for early elections. While opinion polls suggest that Sharon's disengagement plan has the support of nearly three-quarters of the Israeli public, the prime minister dreads the prospect of his own party, the Likud, disintegrating should he decide to hold a referendum. For the Likud, which has many pro-settler activist members, is overwhelmingly opposed to Sharon's plan.

Thus the Israeli government today consists of one man who manipulates both the right and the left, because they are giving him the power to do so. This represents an impasse in the situation. No one pushes for the bringing down of Sharon, for none of the main political forces have a genuine alternative to what he is doing. The extreme right are aware of the fact that they do not have majority support in Israeli society. But the official Left also do not know what to put in the place of Sharon, so they hide behind the fig leaf of the “withdrawal plan” and thus continue to support him.

However this situation of paralysis cannot go on for long.

What is allowing this stalemate situation to hold is the lack of a genuine voice of the working class. Over the past couple of years we have seen important movements of the Israeli workers. For while this stalemate is continuing, there is one thing all the main political forces seem to agree on: that it is necessary to make Israeli workers pay for the crisis of Israeli capitalism! The cuts in pensions, healthcare, education and so on, the continuing process of privatisation, are all alienating the workers.

The Zionist dream of creating a safe haven, a paradise for Jews, in Israel, is turning into a hell. Sooner or later the Israeli workers will move in a decisive manner. This coming struggle of the working class is the one factor that can provoke a change to this unstable equilibrium. Then all the cosy relations will be shattered and the real situation will become apparent to all.