There were days when tens of thousands of demonstrators in the city square set in motion processes that culminated in the toppling of a government, or the deposing of a defense minister. But the skin of the new Israeli leaders are of a substance that would not shame elephants. What do they care that more than 150,000 demonstrators are calling on them to put an end to the bloodbath in Gaza, after hundreds of registered Likud members in Ofakim voted against the evacuation of Netzarim?
"The lefties" from Rabin Square are certainly not going to determine who the candidates of the Beit Shean party branch are going to be in the next primary elections in the Likud. So one bus organized by the "Feiglins" - under the leadership of settler Moshe Feiglin of the Likud Central Committee - that brought voters to the polling stations catches the eyes of the pretenders to the throne in the Likud more than do dozens of buses carrying supporters of Peace Now.
As far as the Likud is concerned, "in the best case," the demonstration strengthened the standing of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in advance of the next round in the internal struggle over his plan to butcher the territories unilaterally into Bantustans. With a bit of media effort, it is even possible to depict the demonstration this Saturday as popular support for the policy of the prime minister, who on that same day made hundreds of Palestinian children homeless. The call to "start talking" is foreign to the prime minister, whose party has clipped his wings. Even if the spirit of conciliation descends upon Sharon and he decides to talk to Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmad Qureia (Abu Ala), he will have to ask permission of Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Housing and Construction Minister Effie Eitam (National Religious Party) and talk to Abu Ala about the weather.
The peace-seekers who came to Rabin Square en masse are not relevant to the internal conflict of the Likud, just as the Likud is not relevant to them. They must not waste their energies on suggested improvements to the Likud referendum in order to rescue Sharon from the margins of the arena. The relevance of the 150,000 demonstrators and the mass of supporters who stayed home depends upon the ability to translate their energies into deep political currents. It depends on the belief in their power to go forth from Ibn Gabirol Street to millions of homes and market to them an alternative to the government's policy. This ability is not to be found in the hands of an 81-year-old statesman who insists on speaking in the name of "the people," or heaven forefend, in the name of "the left," about the conditions for another unity government.
Ever since former prime minister Ehud Barak convinced 43 percent of his voters to change their minds for the worse about the Palestinians' desire for peace (as shown in a study by Professor Daniel Bar-Tal of Tel Aviv University and the Smith Institute, March 2002), Labor Party and Shinui voters have been pinning their hopes on political chameleons. Let it be Sharon-Peres-Lieberman (Transportation Minister Avigdor Lieberman of the National Union party), or Sharon-Peres-Eitam - all that matters is that they get those Palestinians out of sight. Next time around they will eagerly buy the Netanyahu-Barak-Feiglin team. They have heard all the politicians and the pundits who agree that the mass of demonstrators dispersed to their homes like a shepherdless flock. What a pity, they shake their heads, that we do not have a leader worthy of the name.
Ever since the intifada broke out, the leaders of the Israeli left have been justifying the defeatist reputation the right has pinned on them; they have lost the will, and perhaps also the ability, to read the needs of their reference group and give it the feeling that they are able to expand their base of support and retake power. They are to a large extent responsible for the diagnosis that the left has no one worthy of the title "leader," while on the right there is a surplus of leaders.
The lack of faith in their abilities has transformed inept prime ministers like Ariel Sharon and Benjamin Netanyahu into "natural" leaders. Who says that Labor MK Avraham Burg, or One Nation MK and Histadrut labor federation Chairman Amir Peretz are less worthy of leadership than they are? Although Labor MK Binyamin Ben-Eliezer is not considered a giant among men, is his transparent replacement as defense minister, Shaul Mofaz, more worthy of leading the country?
The peace camp needs a leader who will not be deterred by the threats from the Jewish settlers in the territories about "a civil war," and will refrain from seeking that hidden consensus that Ami Ayalon insists upon pursuing. In 1948, Ben-Gurion empowered the IDF to open fire on the Irgun arms ship Altalena, with Menachem Begin on board. Anyone who is demanding of the Palestinians that for the benefit of their future they turn on those among them who refuse to compromise cannot evade an Altalena of his own. David Ben-Gurion is not going to do it for him. He who waits will wind up on the pensioners' bench at Rabin Square.
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