Israel: The king is dead, long live the king!

A short report on the latest government crisis in Israel by A.Kramer (Editor of the Israeli marksist website Iskra)

There were celebrations today among the Israeli left. On October 30 the Israeli Sharon-Peres coalition government came to an end when three main Labour party ministers, Benjamin Ben-Elizer (Defence Minister), Shimon Peres (Foreign Minister) and Matan Vilnai (Minister of Culture) handed their resignation letters to the Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon. They did this immediately after voting for the new Israeli budget for the year 2003.

The main content of this budget is made up of bug cuts in social spending. It involves cuts in spending on children, women, unemployment benefit and pensions. Only in two sections are there to be no cuts: subsidies to develop new settlements in the occupied Palestinian lands and money to religious institutes. The cuts also will not affect subsidies for the big industrialists and the banks, and they will not affect spending for the bureaucracy and on ministers themselves. For example, according to the new budget one minister without portfolio will cost the Israel taxpayer about 1,700,000 NIS (about US$300,000).

This budget has come under permanent criticism from both the left and the right over the last year. Both the experts and ordinary people have declared that the result of this budget will be an Argentine style social catastrophe. The vote in Parliament on the budget was a real test for all those involved and now we see the results. The budget was supported by 67 MPs against 45. This victory of Sharon and his finance ministry, Silvan Shalom, would have been impossible without the support of the Labour MPs. Now the right wing MPs that demagogically criticised this budget in the past have now united around Sharon "to save the country's economy".

Immediately after the budget was voted the Labour Party decided to end the game. They decided that to vote this budget is one thing, but to be part of the government that will have to run the country on the basis of this budget is another question. After supporting Sharon's budget they demanded that he increase by 4% subsidies to the students and pensioners by diverting money that had been allocated to the development of the settlements. Sharon refused to accept these demands and thus the cabinet fall.

Over the last couple of days some parties of the Israeli left were feeling uncomfortable with the coalition government. They could not understand how the Nobel Prize winner, Shimon Peres, could back Sharon's brutal repression of the Palestinians. But they forget the Labour Party's policy under Barak, when in October 2000 Israeli police killed about 25 Israeli-Arab citizens, and they have forgotten how the second Intifada began, yes as result of Sharon's provocation, but under a Labour Party government.

Now Sharon is going to create a new narrow extreme right wing cabinet, with the presence of fascist elements like "Moledet" that calls for the deportation of the whole of the Arab population out of Israel. The level of oppression of the Palestinian people will thus increase. The new government will be bad for the ordinary working people of Israel, but it will be good at carrying out provocations that Sharon likes so much. With this cabinet Sharon hopes to stay in power until the new elections in November 2003.

The Labour leaders are hoping that this ultra-right wing coalition will collapse soon as a result of the inevitable social problems that will ensue. But the people today do not trust the Labour leaders. They can see that their words are very different from their actions. The masses do not see any real differences between the economy policies of the Labour Party and the Likud. They see this playing with words as mere intrigues and lies.

This story will not finish here. The new coalition will have to agree on the budget and carry it out. In the past the budget has led to an increase in mass activity and growing pressures from the street. There are reasons to hope that in this coming year the resistance of the working masses in Israel will rise to new levels.