Israeli elections solve nothing - "Next year everyone will be back to the polling stations!"

Sharon's victory in yesterday's Israeli elections was a foregone conclusion. The Israeli right wing's position in the Knesset [Israeli parliament] has now been consolidated as never before. A superficial examination of these voting patterns would indeed lead to a very pessimistic view of the situation. But if we look a little closer at the process a different picture emerges. On the basis of a closer analysis no one can say that all the Israeli people voted for Sharon! Far from it!

It was not necessary to be a prophet or a brilliant political analyst to predict Sharon's victory in yesterday's Israeli elections. It was a foregone conclusion. The Israeli right wing's position in the Knesset [Israeli parliament] has now been consolidated as never before. Even the extreme right wing that calls for the transfer of all Palestinians and Israeli Arabs, united under the leadership of Avigdor Liberman in the "National Unity Bloc", have made gains. Israeli big business had already shown its preferences by investing huge amounts of money in their favourite - the Likud party.

One of the issues concerning ordinary Israelis was the question of "security". They have grown used to living in fear and are desperately seeking a solution. The previous Labour led government had failed to solve the problem. The fact is that on the basis of a capitalist Israel dominated by the interests of the Zionist ruling elite there can be no solution because the demands of the Palestinians cannot be met by capitalism. Even the citizens of Israel are now being seriously affected by the economic crisis. In this context either the capitalist Zionists are overthrown or the present situation will continue to fester and get worse.

So when it comes to appealing to the electorate as the "strong man" that can supposedly guarantee "security" then Sharon as a politician has proved to be much stronger than his former colleague, general Mitzna (of the Labour Party), who has been trying to portray himself as the Israeli Clinton - except with a beard.

Now Sharon will feel that he is legitimised in stepping up the pressure on the Palestinians. However, even the right wing "winning camp" does not seem so strong as it was in previous years. Even for the right-wing support was clearly down, and their "victory" is an illusory one.

It is true that Sharon's Likud has doubled its Knesset seats to 37, while the Labour Party has suffered its worst election defeat ever, gaining only 19 seats. Now, it is fashionable among some on the far left to depict the Jews in Israel as one homogeneous, racist mass. Some will no doubt use these recent election results to back up this view. But that would be doing a disservice to ordinary workers in this country. The fact is they have no party to turn to. All the main parties are based on the Zionist history that led to the creation of Israel and the oppression of the Palestinians. All of them make every effort to blur class differences and enhance "national identity". The situation is undoubtedly a difficult one. In the Knesset, the right wing has emerged far stronger than it was. But this is not due to a massive swing towards Sharon

A superficial examination of these voting patterns would indeed lead to a very pessimistic view of the situation. But if we look a little closer at the process a different picture emerges. On the basis of a closer analysis no one can say that all the Israeli people voted for Sharon! Far from it!

First of all the turnout at these elections was the lowest on record. More than 30% of voters did not bother to vote for any party. Compared to previous years the number of people that turned out to vote was pitifully low. It was 68%, which although, high compared to countries such as Britain or the USA, does reflect a growing dissatisfaction among ordinary Israelis. The people are fed up of endless elections and the lies of the politicians. In fact in the last seven years there have been four national elections and the people are getting fed up of constant elections that solve nothing

If in the past the polling stations were full of people casting their votes all day long, on the afternoon of the 28th there were just the observers, the members of the election commission and policemen. The fact is that there are very few differences between the Likud and the Labour Party. After all, up until just three months ago they were in the same government!

There is also a paradoxical situation. Opinion polls regularly show that a large part of the Israeli population would prefer to reopen negotiations with the Palestinians, and if these were to fail they then prefer the option of Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and most of the West Bank. They also support the idea of dismantling most of the settlements. At the same time opinion polls also revealed that most voters preferred maintaining the political status quo as it was.

What this means is that many Israelis cannot find a party that genuinely reflects their aspirations and desires. The BBC interviewed people at the polling stations and found there was very little enthusiasm among the electorate. One person who was interviewed revealed the real situation. He said: " I didn't vote for the best man - I voted for the least worst man."

This kind of thinking also helps to explain another result, that of the Shinui party. From six seats it has gone up to 15. This is a secular party that, at least in words, wants to reduce the influence of the religious right and is in conflict with the Shas and the National Religious Party. Many of those who voted for the Shinui did so hoping for change. They are looking for an alternative to both the Likud and the Labour party and do not want to give their support to the ultra-orthodox right wing parties.

However the voters of the Shinui will be very disappointed. This party stands for negotiations with the Palestinians, but without Arafat, which means in practice blocking negotiations. And furthermore it stands for unity of right and left in a government of national unity. Therefore it stands for the same policies of the previous Sharon government. And even its avowed secularism does not go very deep. It has stated that in the event of war it would be prepared to form a government alongside the ultra-right wing religious parties.

Things are not looking rosy for the right, but the left has proved to be in total ideological, tactical and political disarray. This may explain why left wing liberals in many cases have abandoned this hopeless battlefield, and are waiting for "better times" in the future. As a member of the local election committee in my town I spent all day (on 28th) visiting different polling stations and only in a few cases did I see anyone from the Labour party or from the MERETZ party. In all the other voting districts there was a complete monopoly of the right wing and the ethnically based parties.

Apart from the MERETZ party there was also the Hadash which managed to hold on to four seats mainly thanks to the vote of the Israeli Arabs. Support for this party among Jewish workers is still very low, which reveals the inability of the party to leap over the ethnic divide and build support among all the workers of Israel. As I explained in a previous article (Perspectives for the January 2003 Israeli elections)  HADASH had been using the tactic of forming an alliance with Arab nationalists. This is no way to win Jewish workers. In spite of this they did better than expected. They would have done far better if they had adopted Marxist principles, programme and tactics, instead of playing with nationalism.

The Israeli elections reveal quite clearly the emptiness of the main political forces and the crisis of Israeli parliamentary democracy. None of the bourgeois parties presented any programme with genuine solutions to the problems ordinary working people are facing. Almost the whole election campaign was based on attacks on "alien" religions, or on ethnic or political groups. The religious party, the SHAS, raised the question of the "Russian Jews", while all the others raised the spectre of the "left" or of the "Arab threat". The Labour party based its whole campaign on how "good Mitzna is". In general all the main parties preferred to talk less about their own past record. And rightly so! For they have never done anything for ordinary working people.

When all other ways of influencing the electorate were exhausted some parties used election trickery and gimmickry, more typical of Russian provincial politics than that of the "only democracy in the Middle East". The religious parties publicly promised "salvation" for all their voters. The Israeli province recruited such well-known stars from Europe as the Russian nationalist and anti-Semite Zirinovsky and the Italian porn star Cicciolina. The "Zomet" party even promised all their electors 500 dunam of land in the Negev desert and in the Golan Heights!

The right wing will not find it easy going in what will follow the elections either. Sharon will continue along the road he had previously taken - that of war, cutting jobs, privatisation and attacks on welfare. In fact the elections have solved nothing, even though it seems that Sharon may be able to patch together a coalition that will have the support of 70 members of the Knesset out of the total of 120.

It will be very difficult to patch together a working government coalition from the myriad of political groups and factions. Sharon would actually prefer a government of National Unity. This would reflect the make up of his previous government. But that fell over the budget when the Labour Party withdrew from the coalition and forced yesterday's elections. The Labour leader Mitzna has promised not to join any government of national unity with Sharon. But some leading members of the party are more open to the idea of a new coalition, so of course they can easily forget this promise. But even if they do Labour can also easily leave the Sharon government at any moment as they did last December.

If Sharon fails to involve the Labour Party in government then it is not yet clear whether he can achieve a narrow government majority with the help of Avigdor Liberman and the extreme right. Such a government will not find it easy to get a majority in the Knesset, and in any case it would represent a significant shift to the right. Even for Sharon it would be risky to sit together with extreme fascist and racist elements

All these factors mean that we have entered a new unstable period in Israeli politics. These elections have solved nothing. In fact Israel is facing the worst economic crisis in its history. For the past two years Gross Domestic Product has contracted by about 1% a year. This is the deepest recession Israel has ever experienced. In 2000 the IT bubble burst. Daily ordinary people's lives have been getting worse. Unemployment (almost unknown in the past) has shot up to nearly 15%. Some layers of society are literally going hungry. Even soup kitchens have had to be set up to stop the poorer layers from suffering malnutrition.

This crisis is magnified by the enormous burden of military spending. 10% of government spending goes on arms, compared to 2-3% in Britain or 5% in the USA. After a period in which this spending had begun to go down it is now up again as the government has shifted its emphasis from negotiations to the military jackboot.

The reality of the situation is that the Israeli ruling class is preparing to fight a war on two fronts, externally against the Palestinians, and internally against its own people. The bosses in Israel are demanding tax cuts and further measures of privatisation. Economic strategists are saying that the government will have to cut 5 billion to 15 billion shekels from government spending. Sharon has no intention of cutting this from the military budget, therefore it will be pensions, benefits and social spending that will have to suffer. Thus the Israeli workers will be on the receiving end of these policies.

Many Israeli workers are worried about jobs, wages and welfare benefits. Israel is one of the most divided countries among the industrialised nations. It has one of the highest differentials between the rich and poor. This will not change, but will get worse with the new government that is about to be formed.

Thus the next Israeli elections may not be too far ahead in the future! But the spending of another two billion shekels will not save the political and economic system of this country from further collapse. What is needed is to give the workers of Israel a voice. The large number of abstentions shows quite clearly that many Israelis are dissatisfied with the whole system and the parties that make it up. Even those who voted for the Likud, the Labour party and the other parties did so unenthusiastically. The voice of the Israeli workers and youth is stifled by this situation. That voice must be heard. Our task is to work towards the building of a genuine workers' alternative, based on class politics and internationalism.