Labor's Unforgiven Sin

In the near future, a Labor departure from the government will do nothing to either advance the political horizon or make it retreat, because Labor has given up its relevance both domestically and externally.

The political commentators are busy analyzing the implications of early elections on the positions of Sharon and Ben-Eliezer in their respective parties' primary elections. The economic analysts are warning that dismantling the Sharon government, mistakenly called "the unity government," could erode Israel's international credit rating. Only the diplomatic correspondents are silent - and for good reason.

In the near future, a Labor departure from the government will do nothing to either advance the political horizon or make it retreat, because Labor has given up its relevance both domestically and externally. By doing so, it eliminated any motivation for the American president - the only force capable of moving the process - to jump into the cold water. U.S. calculations about its foreign policies are also not devoid of domestic political concerns. Labor contributed to the fact that those interests make Bush only go hesitantly through the motions of sticking a single toe into the water.

According to The New York Times and other American publications, Bush does not make any foreign policy decisions without first consulting with Karl Rove, his GOP political adviser. Rove analyzed for Bush the electoral impact of an assault on Iraq in terms of both the upcoming congressional races and the presidential race two years from now.

Matters concerning Israel, in other words, Jews, have never been considered purely foreign policy affairs in Washington. For many years that was particularly true of the Democrats, but September 11 took the Jews out of the liberals' pockets and made them players in the Republican field as well. When Rove is asked about what can be gained or lost from accelerating the peace process, he tests the temperature of the Jewish waters. The depth of involvement he proposes to the president is in inverse proportion to the amount of warmth the Jewish community feels about such ideas as a Palestinian state.

The decision to send an assistant secretary of state - and not the secretary - to the region, shows the consultants have found a chilly reception in the Jewish community to the possibility of putting pressure on Sharon to accept the "road map" and freeze the settlements. On the other hand, Rove's pollsters found no pressure inside the community to stop the Palestinian terror and Israeli occupation through energetic political initiatives.

When George Bush Sr. forced Yitzhak Shamir on the eve of the 1992 elections to choose between the settlements and the loan guarantees, he knew that by doing so he was making the Israeli public choose between the Likud, the occupation's partner, and Labor, a peace partner. He took into account that when his election rolled around, at least the moderates in the Jewish community would be grateful. Bush Jr. has learned over the past two years that the partner for peace has become the servant of the partner of occupation.

The lack of an alternative to the Sharon/Ben-Eliezer government has paralyzed the supporters of compromise inside the Jewish community. MK Avshalom Vilan, who recently visited Washington as part of a Peace Coalition delegation, says that congressmen, including Jewish congressmen, were surprised to learn that the majority of the Israeli public supports the establishment of a Palestinian state and opposes the settlements. The pro-Israeli lobby constantly feeds them information about corruption in the Palestinian Authority, but they've never been told that in less than 10 years there will be an Arab majority between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River. Obviously, nobody asks them to protest the highway robbery of olive harvesters and the land grabs of Palestinian properties.

The leaders of Reform and other liberal movements in American Judaism admit to their friends in the Israeli peace camp that their communities refuse to listen to a word of criticism about the Israeli government's policies. "How can you expect us to pressure the administration to change its attitudes to Sharon's brutal policies," they ask, "when the Labor Party's leader executes those policies and the Nobel Peace Prize laureate does such a good job of explaining the policies?"

For that sin, the abandonment of American Jewry, the peace camp may yet pay for many years to come.