By GERRY FOLEY
In-fighting among the Zionist parties has now forced the Israeli premier, Ariel Sharon, to call new elections for February. Sharon pointed out that elections are risky for the Zionist state in the current situation. In fact, the economic costs of the war against the Palestinians and the world economic crisis are creating potentially serious divisions among the parties that support the Israeli state.
Sharon blamed the right-wing National Union for the snap elections, claiming that it posed onerous conditions for joining the government, which was certainly true. But Sharon was also pressed by his right-wing rival within his own Likud party, Binyamin Netanyahu, who also demanded snap elections.
In fact, even if the National Union came into the government, it would give Sharon only a paper-thin majority, 62 out of 120 seats in parliament, liable to be blown away by the slightest political turbulence. His government majority is already is a museum of neo-medieval monsters. The classical right party, Likud, has only 19 of the 55 seats while the others are held by religious parties.
The collapse of the Israeli National Unity government, including both the Likud and the Labor Party, was a result of growing economic difficulties that are making it more and more difficult to reconcile the different interests of the Israeli population and the Zionist rulers.
The immediate issue that brought the cabinet down at the end of October was a budget bill that combined generous subsidies to the ultra-Zionist colonies planted in predominately Arab areas with drastic cuts in social benefits for the Israeli poor and elderly.
The Zionist settlements on the West Bank and Gaza represent the unavowed and unavowable continued goal of the Israeli rulers to “Judaicize” the entire land of Palestine and thereby to subjugate or drive out the Palestinian people.
But this is a goal that most of the Israeli community is no longer willing to sacrifice for. Israeli polls show that only 20 percent of the Jewish population supports the settlements. The overwhelming majority thinks that they should be removed to clear the way for some kind of compromise settlement with the Palestinians.
The “Palestinian state” offered by the Oslo peace accords, which remains the basis of all attempts to negotiate a settlement with the Palestinian leadership, is obviously impossible if the territory allotted for this ministate is dotted with fortified Zionist settlements connected by roads under the control of the Israeli military.
In fact, the underlying cause of the present Palestinian uprising is that under the so-called Palestinian Authority the Palestinian people of the West Bank in particular found themselves suffering a still more onerous Israeli occupation because of the Zionist settlements and the deployment of the Israeli army to defend them.
Moreover, the Zionist settlements in the Arab lands conquered by Israel in 1967 were established and are peopled by Zionist holy warriors who make no bones about their intention to drive out the Palestinians.
A recent example is the illegal Zionist settlement at Havat Gilad. The Israeli government sent in soldiers to dislodge the illegal settlers but it was the Palestinians living in the area who paid the main price. The settlers continue to defy the Israeli army with essential impunity.
The liberal Israeli daily Haaretz (Nov. 1) reported the case of one Arab family, the Abdullahs, whose olive grove borders on Havat Gilad. When they called on the army to protect them from the settlers, it declared the area a closed military zone and forced them out.
After the army had left and the Palestinians could return, they found that 80 of their 210 olive trees had been stripped of their fruit and that many had their branches broken. They started picking the remaining olives, but then a group of 20 settlers arrived, five of whom were armed. They drove the Palestinians away and took the olives they had picked. Such robbery has become common and a scandal even among liberal Zionists.
Support of the settlers has become the most glaring example of the sacrifice of the interests of the majority of the Israeli population to the long-term Zionist goals that mean endless war. But in general, the Israeli economy is reeling under the weight of the cost of the war against the Palestinians, as well as the crisis of the world capitalist economy, to which Israel has totally mortgaged its future.
The Oct. 22 issue of the British Guardian reported that Uzi Dayan, chairman of the Israeli National Security Council, estimated that suppressing the Palestinian uprising was costing the Israeli economy about $3 billion a year. There was no hope, he said, that Israel could solve its financial problems as long as the war continued.
Sharon’s answer to the problem is to ask the United States to bail out the Zionist state. The Oct. 22 Guardian reported that his government was working up a request for $10 billion in additional aid. Israel is already the largest recipient of U.S. aid, getting $2.1 billion a year, most of which goes for military equipment.
Tourism revenues have dropped by half and foreign investment by two thirds since the start of the latest Palestinian uprising High tech industries were the driving force of an economy that is isolated in its region and enjoys no important natural resources. Now the bursting of the dot-com bubble has hit Israel especially hard. Official unemployment is over 10 percent. Inflation is already at 7 percent.
The economy overall not only failed to grow in the past two years but declined by 1.5 percent for this year and by 0.5 percent for the year before. But given its demographic growth, Israel needs a growth rate of 1.8 percent annually as a minimum. Growing unemployment makes it difficult to attract new Jewish immigrants and to maintain the foreign labor force that the Zionist bosses have been bringing in to replace Palestinian workers in agriculture and the building industry.
Moreover, according to Le Monde of Oct. 15, real incomes of Israelis declined by 4.5 percent in the first seven months of this year and 5.8 percent for the second trimester.
The government austerity programs have already sparked a series of general strikes by Histadrut [the historic Zionist labor and social organization, which is a pillar of the Labor Party] and prolonged strikes by municipal workers. Under these pressures, Labor’s departure from the government could be seen coming from way off. No negotiations or even the obvious reluctance of the Labor tops to be separated from the fleshpots of the state machine could prevent it.
The immediate result is a polarization of Israeli politics. Sharon tried to avoid quick new elections by making an alliance with the ultraright bloc, the National Union, at least one of whose components, the Moledet party, calls for outright expulsion of the Palestinians.
However, the National Union’s conditions for joining the government reported in the Nov. 1 issue of Haaretz mean total confrontation with the Palestinians and open defiance of the U.S. attempts to save its face and that of its right-wing Arab allies.
The National Union demanded that the government declare formally that the Olso agreement is dead, that it make a decision in principle for dismantling the Palestinian Authority and disbanding its security forces, that it lift the restrictions on continued expansion of the Zionist settlements, and that it declare that “under the present circumstances” a Palestinian state is “irrelevant.”
Clearly, the crisis of the Israeli economy is forcing the Israeli population to face the fact that the continuing war on the Palestinians is an insurmountable obstacle to their aspirations for a better life. Hopefully, that will lead them to look for alternatives. Ultimately, that can only mean giving up the idea of an exclusively Jewish state and seeking a basis for living together with the Arab people of Palestine and of the region.