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NETANYAHU WAS deposed after three years, Barak after only 18 months, and Sharon's term in office as prime minister will probably be even shorter. This trend reflects the deepening economic and political crisis of Israeli capitalism. MANDY RABIN of Maavak Sozialisti, (Committee for a Workers' International - CWI - Israel) reports.
Israeli election: A new period of insecurity
IN MAY 1999, 55% of Israeli voters enthusiastically voted for Ehud Barak, whose promises included free education, the creation of 300,000 jobs, a withdrawal from Lebanon in the context of a peace agreement with Syria within a year, and peace with the Palestinians.
Within eighteen months, Barak has been toppled by a crushing margin of 25% - the worst of any prime ministerial candidate in Israel's history. These results show the depth of anger and hatred that Israeli workers feel for Barak, especially since Sharon was considered unelectable.
Barak failed in every sphere. As the recession has worsened, unemployment and attacks on workers have increased. Instead of achieving a peace agreement with Syria, the Israeli army generals suffered a humiliating retreat from Lebanon under fire.
Not only has Barak made no progress in the peace negotiations with the Palestinians, but a renewed Intifada has flared up in its place, with the hideous spectre of an inter-communal and regional war looming in its shadow.
When the no confidence motions of opposition parties threatened to topple his government Barak resigned, forcing elections for prime minister, in a tactical manoeuvre designed to preserve his premiership. Israeli workers were disgusted by this selfish move and furious about being dragged into elections needlessly, with millions of shekels of public money being wasted on pointless election campaigns.
Ariel Sharon's yawning 25% margin over Barak does not represent any popular support for Sharon. Responsible for entangling Israel in a prolonged and bloody military adventure in Lebanon, Sharon is considered an extremist and dangerous by many Israeli workers.
In sharp contrast with previous elections, the almost total absence of election car stickers, posters or banners testifies to this lack of support for Sharon.
Ariel Sharon has nothing to offer the working class except the same pro-capitalist policies which have driven increasing numbers into poverty, and have undermined organised labour. Sharon's lack of an alternative to the failed Oslo peace process, and lack of a solution to the escalating spiral of violence in the region, was reflected in vague, non-committal election slogans.
With two such reviled candidates, many Israelis felt caught between a rock and a hard place, hence one of the lowest election turnouts (59%) in Israel's history.
The Palestinian boycott
THE MOST dramatic turnaround in these elections was amongst Palestinians with Israeli citizenship, who constitute 12% of the electorate, and 20% of the population.
In the last elections, Barak received 95% of the votes of Israeli Palestinians. This time round, Palestinian voters boycotted the elections en masse, with only 16% of those eligible to vote doing so, and among these 25% cast blank ballots.
Israeli Palestinians had high hopes that Barak's promises of peace would bring them increased prosperity and equality within Israel. Instead, these Palestinians have borne the brunt of the economic recession, while Barak contemptuously refused to meet with Israeli Palestinian leaders throughout his term in office.
The last remains of Israeli Palestinian's illusions that the government and Israeli State in any way serve their interests was shattered when 13 Israeli Palestinians were brutally murdered by Israeli police, during demonstrations that broke out in October.
WITH TRADITIONAL industry in deep crisis for years, only the high-tech sector has kept the economy afloat. Already, the effects of the collapse in the NASDAQ stock exchange are beginning to be felt, with start-up closures on a daily basis.
Add to this the devastating effect the Intifada has had on the tourist industry, causing 30,000 lay-offs, plus the anticipated flight of investment in the wake of a Sharon victory, and Israel is in for an extremely severe recession, far worse even than what we have seen in the past five years.
Moreover, in reaction to the victory of Ariel Sharon, notorious amongst Palestinians as the 'butcher of Sabra and Shatila' [refugee camps near Beirut, the Lebanon. Sharon as defence minister allowed Phalangist militia to massacre Palestinian civilians], an escalation of the Intifada is expected.
The ruling class, faced with chronic instability caused by the economic crisis and escalating Israeli-Palestinian conflict, is putting massive pressure on Sharon to form a 'national unity' government including Labour. Such a government would attempt to quell the Intifada by resurrecting the corpse of the Oslo peace accords, and also form a united front from which to attack Israeli workers, and make them pay for the worsening economic crisis.
Due to an internal battle for leadership within the Israeli Labour party, and its possible disintegration, it is not clear if it will be possible to form a government of national unity. In which case Sharon will be forced to form an ultra-right coalition with parties of the ultra-orthodox and messianic settlers.
Incapable of making any headway on the peace process, and with the economy hurtling into severe crisis, such a narrow, right-wing coalition would be toppled within a few months, leading to new elections for the Knesset.
But even a national unity government would probably not last much longer, due to the attacks on workers that such a government would carry out, and with capitalism having no solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
So any government that forms in Israel will be even more unstable than its predecessors.
IN OUR election material, Maavak Sozialisti explained that both Barak and Sharon serve the interests of big business and therefore we called for a blank ballot.
The only way for the Israeli working class to defend their rights in this period of severe economic crisis and national conflict is through independent class struggle in the schools, neighbourhoods and workplaces.
We also raised the need to build a mass workers' party, democratically controlled by the membership, that will fight to defend workers against the attacks of the government and employers, and to provide an electoral alternative to the bosses' parties.
But in order to win mass support, such a party would have to not only fight on social issues but show workers a way out of the nightmare of regional war and conflict, by providing a working-class alternative to the bankrupt capitalist peace process.
Capitalism has proved not only that it is incapable of bringing peace and prosperity to the Middle East, but is driving the Israeli and Palestinian masses into increasingly severe economic crisis, and into escalating national conflict. Only socialism can provide a way out of the developing nightmare.
In The Socialist 16 February 2001: