Time to Quit

The Labor party, like many of its supporters, was taken for a ride by Sharon the Mapainik with his promises of peace and security and willingness to make painful concessions.

Question: If the Labor party had known ahead of time that it would be a partner to Sharon's policy of brute force, would it have joined the government? Question: If it had known ahead of time that Arafat would be jailed in Ramallah, that F-16 fighter planes would bomb Palestinian radio and TV stations (which by some miracle continue to broadcast), that the IDF would send troops into the Balata refugee camp, that Sharon would sabotage every political initiative proposed by Peres, that the Saudi offer would be turned down flat - if Labor had known all this, would it have joined the government? I think the answer is no. The Labor party, like many of its supporters, was taken for a ride by Sharon the Mapainik with his promises of peace and security and willingness to make painful concessions.

Today, a year later, when the surveys are showing that people are gravely disappointed in Sharon's performance and he has received low marks in almost every department, despite the hopes pinned on him, the Labor party - in the role of fig leaf - is no less to blame for the current deterioration than Sharon.

In the business sector, the responsibility of directors was recognized long ago. Ministers, like directors, do not sit on their seats to warm their backsides and delight in the pleasures of power. They are there to keep an eye on the business. The Labor party's support of Sharon today lies somewhere between pathetic and tragi-comic. If Lieberman, Elon, Landau, Peres, Vilnai and Fuad can live together, snug as bugs in rug, it's a sign they agree with Sharon's policy, geared mainly to staying clear of any serious talks about the future of the territories.

Rabin used to describe his administration as a body that stands on two legs: a military leg and a political leg. Labor is now a partner in an administration that stands on one leg - the military one. If Labor was once the brake that kept Sharon from doing Lieberman's bidding, Arafat has made that brake irrelevant. It's been months since Labor had any influence on the government. Not in the socio-economic sector, not in improving security and not in advancing peace. Slowly but surely, Labor has turned into a rubber-stamp for Sharon's policies.

The Labor ministers decided between themselves, for example, that after the killers of Rehavam Ze'evi were apprehended, they would call for the siege on Arafat to be lifted. But when the security cabinet met, all four Labor ministers voted as Sharon wanted them to. There is no question that this humiliating vote ignited a new round of bloodshed just when cease-fire talks were being held behind the scenes.

Now, as Labor sits idly by, Sabra & Chatila Man has been let loose in the Balata and Jenin refugee camps, in the sort of raid that could end up in a massacre - on one side or the other. Meant to "deliver a message," this operation has only triggered another wave of terrorism and made it clear that force alone is not going to do the trick.

Unity governments are established for a special purpose, to achieve goals that are a matter of consensus. Like before the Six-Day War, for example. Or to lower inflation. Or to end the Lebanon War. Today, it's hard to say why Labor is sitting in the government. To satisfy Peres' fantasies? To feed Lieberman's delusions? Labor should be asking itself whether this baby is what it anticipated.

This government has crossed the red line from a moral perspective. In its current configuration, it has also lost its effectiveness. As long as there was hope that the two dinosaurs could plod toward an agreement together - Sharon working on the right-wingers and Peres on Arafat - such a partnership could be justified. The whole concept collapsed from the moment Arafat went crazy and Sharon turned into a serial castrator of dialogue in any shape or form. From this omelet, as Peres likes to say, you'll never get an egg.

The time has come for the Labor party to come to its senses and bow out of the government: (a) because it has lost its power of influence, and has no business serving as Sharon's alibi; and (b) because this will give it a chance to pick up the pieces, mobilize fresh blood and put together an alternative to the narrow, extremist government led by Sharon.

As Sharon warns us against blinking first, in a war that revolves around who blinks first, Israel's finest sons will blink no more. Labor's place is in the opposition.