Not at that price
Ariel Sharon is a serial initiator of Likud national unity governments. In 1984, he was the key person behind the establishment of the rotation government, which lasted until 1990. In 1996, he proposed to Shimon Peres that he join the government and postpone the elections. And in 2000 he offered Barak the Finance Ministry.
In his article "The future foils Sharon" (Haaretz, August 17), Amir Oren argues that not adding Ariel Sharon to the Barak government in 2000 helped Sharon win the election of 2001 and that if Labor had remained in the Sharon government in 2002, it would have received the credit for the hudna. Maybe Oren is right. But that depends on those in government being there to stay or to get "credit." If being in government is meant to serve a certain policy, then Oren is terribly mistaken.
Ariel Sharon is a serial initiator of Likud national unity governments. In 1984, he was the key person behind the establishment of the rotation government, which lasted until 1990. In 1996, he proposed to Shimon Peres that he join the government and postpone the elections. And in 2000 he offered Barak the Finance Ministry. All those various versions of unity had one common thread: preventing or freezing an Israeli-Palestinian political process.
I remember a meeting after the wave of terror attacks in the winter of 1996, in then foreign minister Barak's office and attended by interior minister Haim Ramon. Prime minister Peres asked us to recommend to the Labor ministers that the Likud join the government and the three of us said that if it means freezing the political process, there was no point to such a government.
The temptation was greater in 2000. The government had three more years to serve, the coalition had collapsed and the political price Sharon was asking for was very low. But the diplomatic price was three years of no negotiations with the Palestinians.
Barak, who made quite a few mistakes in the negotiations with the Syrians and Palestinians and after his electoral defeat managed to imprint society with the false illusion that "we offered them everything and they began violence," wanted more than anything to continue the political peace process as long as President Clinton was in office. He knew very well that if he agreed to join forces with Sharon and accept the conditions Sharon posed, it would signal to Clinton, the Palestinians and the entire world that he was bringing down the curtain on the peace process. Barak made no effort to hide his intentions in those days: completing the negotiations, with Clinton's help, and then going to the public for a referendum, even if his coalition was crushed. The fact that Barak did not manage to advance the process during that time is not something to condemn him for. He reached office to advance the peace process and not to be a prime minister neutralized from the most important realm of activity as far as he was concerned.
Labor joining Sharon and the extreme right in 2001 was, and will forever remain, a mark of Cain on the brow of the party and its leaders. The fact is that for two years it enabled Sharon to conduct a policy he never would have dared conduct if not for the leaders of the Israeli peace camp sitting at his side. The unceasing assassinations, the return to Area A, the destruction of the Palestinian Authority's infrastructure, the total cessation of the peace process and the conditions put on its resumption including the stupidity of the Muqata affair, were all done while Labor's leaders served at Sharon's side in the most senior positions, until one day, a brave man in the form of Amram Mitzna stood up and entered the race for the leadership, pulling Labor out of the government.
If not for Labor's support, Sharon would have behaved far more carefully. A whole series of decisions he has made since - the adoption of the road map, his talk about occupation, the prisoner releases and acceptance of the hudna - never would have happened, I believe, if Labor had been at his side. If there is any chance, and it is very slim, for the sides to return to the negotiating table, it is first of all because Labor is not joining the Likud government.
The hudna Oren wrote about is nothing more than a default for someone who is not prepared to use the coming years to solve the conflict in a two-state framework. The peace camp must stand up as an opposition to the political and social vacuity of the Sharon government and offer a responsible, comprehensive alterative to a policy based on patchwork that doesn't have a horizon beyond the tip of its own nose. That is the challenge which, to my regret, the opposition has so far failed to meet. The solution is not joining those who would take us backward through provocative visits to the Temple Mount three years ago, and who won't rest until the next provocation.
Dr. Beilin is a member of Meretz and served as justice minister in the Barak government.