The First 100 Hours: It Begins . . . [3]

Bibi’s government has been with us now for 100 hours. If allowed to complete its term in office, we have another 35,000 hours to go. Here’s my list of disasters for the first hours; multiply this by 350 and you have an idea of what’s ahead:

1. Hebron. In his opening address to the Knesset, his first as Prime Minister, Bibi tells the Palestinian Authority that, yes, we’ll talk to them. (This is a big improvement over his victory speech in Jerusalem, where he mentioned “Palestinians” but forget to mention their elected government.) We’ll talk to the Authority, but the precondition to such talks is that they must do absolutely everything they said they were going to do under the Oslo agreements. As for Israel’s obligations under those agreements (really small, technical issues like redeploying troops in Hebron), Bibi didn’t think it was important to mention those. The reaction among Palestinian leaders: Bibi’s speech was a “declaration of war.” The government is 30 minutes old.
In the days that followed, and in order to avert the condemnation of both the Arab Summit and the United States, the new government sent out strong signals that it really was planning to redeploy in Hebron. There’s a catch, however. Israel now wants to re-negotiate the redeployment. Here a word is in order about what Bibi means by “re-negotiate.” In the finest Likud tradition, that means “stall”, “delay”, “postpone” and so on. The Begin-Shamir government managed to avoid talking about the Palestinian autonomy issue for more than a decade after signing the Camp David accords with Egypt. Shamir was proud that he was able to stall the Madrid peace conference and subsequent bilateral talks. Bibi intends to follow in their footsteps. With luck, the Palestinians will refuse to re-negotiate what has already been decided upon, and Bibi can go ahead and not redeploy in Hebron — which is what he wanted all along.
2. Austerity. Dan Meridor, Likud “moderate” is named Minister of Finance. The Tel Aviv Stock Market and the daily organ of Israel’s bourgeoisie, Ha’aretz, breathes a sigh of relief. For weeks there was panicked speculation that Arik Sharon might get the job. (We’ll come to Sharon in a moment.) Meridor makes clear that his top priority is an austerity budget, possibly with raised taxes. Israel Television reports that education and social services will likely be cut, mass firings in the civil service a near certainty, and taxes raised a probability — those taxes including those that hit working people and the poor the hardest, such as an increase in the 17% Value Added Tax (VAT).
The Histadrut leadership seems to wake up, and Amir Peretz, head of Israel’s once-powerful trade union movement, says that labor is not going to take this lying down. No way. So he threatens the Netanyahu government with — a one (1) hour general strike. And if Bibi doesn’t give in after that, Peretz has other secret weapons at his disposal. For example, he might threaten to bring the Histadrut headquarters back to Tel Aviv. Or raise the red flag over the organization’s building again. Or hold a parade next year on May Day. No more Mr. Nice Guy.
3. Education. The new Education Minister, Zevulun Hammer of the National Religious Party, is known as a guy who can live with budget cuts. (He had no problem with them back in the 1980s, when Likud governments he served in — as Education Minister — were spending more money on West Bank settlements than on education.) He makes it clear that even if everything else in his budget is cut, the one thing that’s going to increase is the study of Judaism. Not that anyone is going to be forced to do anything, he assures the public. No religious coercion here. And, oh yes, the Bible is once again a mandatory testing subject for the matriculation exams.
4. Unemployment. As the press reports a near 10% increase in unemployment in one month (that can’t be blamed on the Netanyahu government), the new Minister of Labor, a 33 year old politician from the Shas party, announces his top priority: closing down businesses that open up on Shabbat. As religious people do not work or shop on Shabbat, this is a declaration of economic warfare on the vast majority of Israelis, who are secular.
5. A chill in the air. Fears that the new media-hostile government, with Limor Livnat as its Minister of Communications, would dampen Israel’s lively free press are already being justified. Within hours of the formation of the government, threats are made against Ha’aretz for having run a front page ad — paid for by a Swiss Jewish businessman — which implied that Netanyahu was reaping the fruits of Yigal Amir’s crime. 72 hours after the new government posed for its group photo, Israel Television airs its popular weekly news magazine which extensively covers the country’s new leadership — without giving any air time at all to the opposition. The Labor Party files a formal complaint.
6. Sharon. For those of us who didn’t want Arik Sharon as Finance Minister, we got him instead as super-minister in charge of “infrastructure”. It seemed for a while there that Bibi was going to keep Sharon, Meridor, Begin and the rest out of his government. But the putsch failed, and the old Likud leadership is now back in the saddle. Sharon has been given the keys to several vaults from which he can fund — as he did in the 1980s — grandiose building projects in the occupied territories. One has to distinguish between what Sharon does with money and what the religious parties do. Give a party like Shas or the National Religious Party a ministry, and they’ll use it to build their own power base, looting the public offers to serve their own constituency. That’s traditional machine politics, quite familiar to Americans from the days of Boss Tweed in New York and Mayor Richard Daley in Chicago. It’s corrupt and immoral, but no more than that.
Sharon, on the other hand, loots public monies not only to build up his own power base and pay off his cronies, but also to sabotage the peace process and bring us one step closer to war.
7. Yigal Amir. Finally, only hours after the Netanyahu government is sworn in, the conspiracy trial of Yigal Amir and his associates resumes. Amir is in a feisty mood, and lashes out at the judge. The judge threatens him with contempt of court. The smile has returned to the assassin’s face.
One step closer to a Golan withdrawal
As we reported back in the very first issue of this newsletter, David Levy — our new foreign minister — was the “good news” in the Bibi government. “In the previous Likud government,” we noted, “Levy was a voice of sanity and reason among all the cuckoos.” Last week, we added the outlandish speculation that the one area where we might see some good news coming out of this terrible government was regarding Syria and the Golan. “I’m going way out on a limb here,” we wrote, “but I think that if we’re going to be surprised, it’s here. . . . [K]eep your eyes on the Golan.” Events in the first 100 hours of the new government have confirmed both of these evaluations.
Levi shocked the Likud leadership (and the “moderates” of The Third Way) by some things he said on Friday night. Here’s how the Associated Press reported it: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said during his campaign that he would not consider returning any of the Golan to Syria, a break from the previous government of Shimon Peres. But on Friday, Levi told Israel’s Channel Two television, “If the peace serves both sides and it is in their supreme interests, then they will speak and they will meet in the middle.” Asked if he was leaving open the possibility of territorial compromise on the Golan, Levi said, “To some extent and on the condition that we achieve peace.” Levi said both sides must enter talks without preconditions.
Panicked representatives of the Golan settlers promptly appeared on television, saying:
* Levi was certainly not speaking on behalf of Netanyahu.
* And even if he was, Netanyahu needed to be re-elected in 2000 and would certainly not betray his voters.
* And even if he did that, the Golan settlers would spearhead a campaign in the streets.
And what would be their slogan now? “Bibi Boged?” (Bibi is a Traitor?)
BibiWATCH for the Masses!
Two articles by BibiWATCH editor Eric Lee appeared in print (yes, print) last week. The Jerusalem Post still allows the occasional (to be honest, practically daily) article by a lefty, and on 18 June ran Lee’s Op Ed article explaining how the Israeli opposition can topple Bibi’s government and win the next election. A similar piece appeared a day later in the biweekly liberal Jewish newsletter published in New York, PS.
Letters from Readers
Listen you fucking Arab Lover: If you want to talk about Bibi then at least tell the truth: 75% of the voters from the golan voted for peres because they wanted the 800,000$ each that they would have got if god forbid peres would have won from the “petzuim” for having to leave their home what about the other 5 million people who like to go to travel there. if anybody has a problem with this then I advise you to send me a line at — Jonathan Givony, Moshav Ein Yahav, Israel
Once again I’m delighted to hear from our friends on the Right. As readers may have noted, Jonathan would like to hear from you. Hey, why not send the poor guy some mail?
My name is Tzach Borowitch and I’m almost 17 years old. I live in Ramat Ilan, wich is in front of Bar-Ilan uni. I, and many other of my friends used to take part in Shimon Peres’s election campain. We were all shocked from the idea that Bibi was elected to be the P.M of Israel. For a reaction, I and few of my friends, have decided to become a strong oposition to the right wing goverment. The election campain for the year 2000 is starting now! not one month before the election, but for years before this. Now, what am I saying. I and few of my friends are standing in Rabin square every friday, from noon till the early hours of the evening (14:00-17:00). The group which stands there is called “Mishmarot Hashalom”. Few of the people wich are standing there with us, are trying to give life to the “Davar” paper. Its new name is “Davar LaShalom” (for now) and the temporary editor or manager or both is Haim Maroz. I ask you to contact me and help me and my friends to be a strong oposition and help us to give life to the “Davar LaShalom” paper. Thank you and may the peace win– Tzach Borowitch
I’ve put your email address in as a link, Tzach. Readers who want to help out can click on it, and get directly in touch with you.
I have recently come across BibiWATCH. Reading it suggested you might be interested in the following. We are a group of “meukhzavei Meretz-Avoda”, who feel that the election results do not reflect so much a “no” to the policies of the last government, as a sense of alienation and non-identification with Meretz and avoda, especially as a result of increasing economic differences in society and a distaste for the “elitist secular” cultural stand Meretz-avoda (especially with respect to the masoret). We are forming a new movement to try to reach those who could support the peace process and a left-oriented social program, but do not do so because of the alienation described above. We are mostly in our thirties, with political experience “meakhorei ha-klaim”. We are interested in recruiting supporters and hearing different opinions on the current situation and how to improve it. — Barak Weiss, Israel
For those of you who don’t read Hebrish, the following is a loose translation: Meukhzavei Meretz-Avoda means “people disillusioned with (or disappointed in) Meretz and the Labor Party”. Masoret means “tradition” — especially, religious Jewish tradition. And meakhorei ha-klaim means “behind the scenes.”
Tres cool site — your link will be added to Ariga — and hope you can quote Ariga occasionally. — Robert Rosenberg, Israel
Readers of BibiWATCH are encouraged to check out Robert’s “Ariga” site; it’s excellent.
What I see as a major contradiction is enjoining the same minister to take control of agriculture, and environment. This is a major mistake. Now all farmers,(and not just those in the West Bank) will be able to use all wanted pesticides with full imunity. These two departments simply do not belong with the same person in charge. — Alan Levita, Kibbutz Ein-Hashofet, Israel
Right. Especially when that person is a racist yahoo like Rafael Eitan.
Nice page, I’ll put a link on my Home Page. — Yossi Rozenman, Israel
Extremely boring and kind of stupid too. No bookmark today! — Ofer Ben Amots, USA
Keep it up, man. — Ian Brown, California, USA
I read your Op/Ed in the Jerusalem Post. I head a group out here called Friends of Shimon Peres. It’s nice to know that we’re not Shimon’s only friends. — Guy Ziv, USA