Sharon must go beyond war and peace and set the domestic house in order
Ariel Sharon’s landslide victory is testimony to the common sense of the Israeli voter. The electorate – which refused to be sidetracked by a stridently biased media – bestowed a gift on the prime minister of inestimable political value, enabling him to go beyond defeating the enemy. Used wisely, it gives him the power to deal with many burning issues that until now have been deemed intractable.
If Sharon succeeds, history will enshrine him as the leader who consummated a quality-of-life revolution for Israelis.
First, however, he must create a workable government, and that will not be easy. Granted, Labor, Meretz, and the Arab parties will not be part of the next government – nor, in all likelihood, will the National Union.
But despite opening salvos by the other parties, a broad unity government, reflecting the consensus of the people, will likely emerge. Besides, impending war with Iraq may offer Labor a face-saving rationale if it has second thoughts about joining.
Israelis – including those who voted Labor – favor the broadest possible unity government. But there is a caveat. It must truly be a unity government. Otherwise, Israel’s international credibility will be compromised. Ministers must pledge not to publicly criticize the policies of the government, as was the case during the previous regime.
We can no longer endure a situation in which our prime minister, foreign minister and defense minister each sings his own tune. If a minister concludes that his disagreement with government policy has become unbearable, he must adopt the practice of ministers elsewhere and resign.
If the Labor Party is unwilling to accept this condition, pressuring it to join will be counterproductive. There is nothing democratic or advantageous about using band-aids to create an artificial alliance between utterly conflicting political visions.
On the one hand, Labor has no unique economic contribution to make. And, on the other, an artificial alliance with those who insist on reverting to the failed vision of Oslo would simply be a prescription for disaster. It would also display contempt for the will of the people.
ON PEACE process issues, the prime minister now has broad support in favor of separating from the Palestinians. He has already outlined a policy which synchronizes with the vision of President George W. Bush in this regard. But he is aware that the overwhelming majority of Israelis reject further unilateral concessions or withdrawals until the Palestinians demonstrate both a willingness and an ability to behave responsibly.
After the eradication of Saddam Hussein there will be considerable pressure to endorse Palestinian statehood. Sharon has made it clear that before achieving statehood the Palestinians must reject the duplicitous Yasser Arafat and elect a leadership committed to stamping out incitement and terrorism.
But that of itself is not enough. The Palestinians must also stop indoctrinating their children in the belief that killing Jews is noble. As long as Palestinians elevate ghoulish murderers to martyrdom, a Palestinian state should not be contemplated.
More than that, Palestinians must acknowledge Jewish sovereignty in this land.
Hence the first task of the new government should be to send an unambiguous message to the world: There can be no talk of Palestinian statehood before these existential issues are resolved, no matter how long it takes.
If Sharon is to take full advantage of the power the electorate has invested in him, he must go beyond issues of war and peace, and also set the domestic house in order.
Obviously, the economy, which is spiraling out of control, must be the first priority. Grinding poverty is no less a threat to national well-being than acts of terror.
In other spheres, the public is fed up with corruption. They will be looking to the prime minister to clarify his own position, as well as to tackle malfeasance within the Likud.
Sharon must send an unequivocal signal that corruption in either the public or private sectors is intolerable. Political fundraising – here or abroad – must be scrupulous in its adherence to the law. As a deterrent, penalties for breaches should be strengthened.
Electoral reform would also contribute to the elimination of corruption. The objective must be to create a system in which elected officials are accountable to the people. A system of constituency representation operating side-by-side with the current proportional representation framework is called for.
Changes like these will encourage more talented Israelis to become involved in political life.
Finally, there is broad consensus for raising the threshold to eliminate small parties.
The justice system also requires an overhaul. A public body should be created to review the role of the Supreme Court, which has assumed an unprecedented involvement – seldom seen in other democracies – in directing public life.
Moreover, the right of unelected individuals to reverse government and Knesset decisions relating to security is utterly unacceptable. The role of the Supreme Court should be limited to the application and interpretation of legislation; it must not be influenced by ideological and non-legal considerations, as is the case today.
There are also other sensitive social areas that need attention. These include: Reform of an educational system that institutionalizes tribalization, review of religion-and-state issues to minimize coercion without undermining the nation’s Jewish character, a resolution of the haredi draft issue, and, of course, a defusing of the Israeli Arab time bomb.
Sharon, the warrior who made such major contributions to Israel’s victories in 1967 and 1973, enjoys unprecedented public support, and may lead a government better able to make changes than any regime since the days of Mapai hegemony. In addition to leading Israel to peace and security, he could also transform this country by bringing about the major reforms in our social and economic life that his predecessors shunted aside.
If successful, he could raise Israel out of its morass and become the nation’s most important leader since 1948.