TEL AVIV -- If I were a cynic, I would say that Ehud Barak and Ariel Sharon planned it all in advance. Just a month ago, Barak was bankrupt, a politician at the end of his career. He had lost his majority in the Knesset and the days of his government were numbered, only managing to carry on because of the Knesset recess.
Ariel Sharon was in a similar situation. It was clear that his Likud party would oust him and replace him with Benjamin Netanyahu, who would win the election.
Then everything changed. Barak started to talk about the "holy places of the nation," because of which he could not agree to Palestinian sovereignty over the holy mosques. Sharon announced he was going to visit this Muslim compound. Barak took the visit under his wing and sent 1,200 officers to accompany Sharon. The visit caused the expected explosion.
The next day, seven Palestinians were killed by Israeli policemen near the al-Aksa mosque. After some hundred fatalities, including the Palestinian child killed in the arms of his father and the Israeli reserve soldiers brutally lynched in Ramallah, a real emergency was finally achieved.
Barak called for the setting up of an emergency government, and, lo and behold, nearly all the parties stood in line to join him. All the media have become a chorus for his propaganda, and a vast majority in the country supports him.
All in all, a stroke of genius.
Well, that's what I would say if I were a cynic. But I am not, and therefore I say that it was not planned but has worked out like that nonetheless.
So what can we say about the emergency government?
First, this will not be a Barak government but a Sharon government. In all the governments he has been a member of until now, Sharon has been dominant.
As minister of agriculture, he planted the settlements that now dictate Barak's policy. As minister of defence, he got Begin into the Lebanon quagmire. In all his diverse ministerial assignments, he has fixed the borders of annexation about which the present war is being fought.
Second, about Barak himself: never has a politician betrayed, in such a cynical way, all the promises he made before his election. We voted for Barak in order to get rid of the Likud and because he promised to make peace with the Palestinians and the Syrians.
Third, an emergency government is a war government. The enemies of a compromise with the Palestinians will be in the majority. In the eyes of the Arab world, the name of Sharon is bound up with the Kibia massacre of 1953 and the Sabra-Shatilla affair of 1982.
The mantra in the media goes like this: "But Barak has gone a longer way toward the Palestinians than any prime minister before him." When? Where? He has not given back even an inch of occupied territory. The talk of a compromise on Jerusalem at Camp David was an unsecured cheque.
The Barak government talked a lot about peace and coined beautiful slogans, but on the ground, from its first day, it continued the war against the Palestinians.
Following the Sharon formula, Barak has enlarged the settlements, put up new ones under various guises, confiscated more Palestinian land all over the Occupied Territories, demolished homes and built "bypass roads" designed to add more land to the "settlement blocs."
Barak, who pretended to be the successor of Rabin, was from the very beginning the successor of Sharon.
Uri Avnery, the author of My Friend The Enemy, fought for Zionist paramilitary groups the Irgun (1938-42) and Haganah (1948). He has served three terms in the Knesset and is now a member of the peace group Gush Shalom.