GETTING BACK ON TRACK

By Ariel Sharon


When the Bar-On Affair erupted, I kept silent. When everything was buzzing like a hornet's nest, I did not express an opinion. I thought it better to allow the legal and justice systems to work quietly, without pressure or interference. I hoped for the best. I hoped that the truth would emerge victorious. Apparently, however, so far neither has truth won, nor have heart and soul been visible. I also did not join the wavering "agonizers." Public expressions of internal wrestling do not, in my opinion, turn us into people of high morals and conscience.

I also did not respond to the actions of some of the members of the left-wing opposition. They did not surprise me. Their support for political positions held by Israel's enemies during tough times goes back a long way. And yet, one must ask whether everything happening in Israel is normal, whether it can go on like this. And what should the government be doing if it is to be able to go on functioning. The following steps should be taken regardless of what government is in power:

An immediate change in the Direct Election Law should be effected. In the absence of systems of checks and balances, Israel has become a country controlled by one man. This is an intolerable situation, and it makes no difference who that one man is, or how talented he may be. In order to continue the peace process, which all of us want, and in order not to be pushed back to the Green Line, the government must finally make a decision about what Israel's goals are: What is vital to its security and very existence; what are its borders; and what its political and economic ties with the Palestinians and with the Arab states are going to be.

This is no longer a question of changing an advisor here and there, of "repairing damage," of "another committee for governmental appointments." It is an existential issue. The government must clarify to itself and to others what must be done in the political process. The resumption of talks must be linked to the Palestinian Authority's actual elimination - not mere sporadic arrests of the terrorist infrastructure. The continuation of the process requires a correction of all breaches by the Palestinians, through amendments and adjustments to the agreement on the issues of holy places, security zones, and water. And this must be done now.

The government must seriously combat terrorism. Talk of doing this is abundant, whereas deeds are scarce. Virtually all of us have become interpreters, commentators, "situation assessors," often apprehensive, protesting, warning, furrowing brows in an expression of careful deliberation and political savvy. We want to be accepted by friends and enemies alike. All of this is very detrimental to combating terrorism. Israel has excellent soldiers and officers. The government should give them clear orders and backing, rather than hiding behind their backs. They should be prevented from being involved in politics. They have outstanding experience, knowledge and ability, but are not always allowed to act, often out of irrelevant considerations.

The government must consider aliya its foremost national objective. At least a million Jews remain in the former Soviet Union. There is an awakening about aliya in France, and growing interest in other countries. While we are dragging our feet in taking advantage of this enormous potential, other countries and foreign industries are enlisting much of our brainpower. We must invest in providing Jewish and Israel-related education in the former Soviet Union and in the West.

While we are not doing enough to encourage aliya, the Palestinians have been implementing - in violation of the Oslo Accords - the "right of return." Thousands of Palestinians, the offspring of the 1948 refugees,

have returned to Galilee. Some of them married Israelis and automatically became citizens. Nearly 10,000 Negev Beduin have married Palestinian women from Gaza and the Hebron area, making them Israeli citizens. Tens of thousands of Palestinians have returned from Jordan to Judea and Samaria, and this "aliya" continues full speed ahead. Yet nobody utters a word.

And what about the illegal appropriation of land in the Negev, where we have already lost about 1.5 million dunams? What about the Palestinian penetration and appropriation of land on the Israeli side of the Green Line; and the illegal Palestinian political activity in Jerusalem? All of these issues were raised countless times during cabinet meetings, yet there has been no response and no answer, only amazing weakness.

While we are losing control of the Negev, the ministerial committee for the development of the Negev and Galilee has not yet been established. The committee should strengthen the development towns and create new settlements. Hundreds of millions of dollars in foreign investment, as well as thousands of jobs, will be lost as a result of not having implemented the decision to establish a free-trade zone in the Negev. We need to stop the collapse of Israeli agriculture. We must calm the commotion the conversion bill has caused among American Jewry.

All of these issues are important. This government was elected to do great things, not all of which I mentioned here. The time has come to be serious, to overcome the weakness which has befallen us. We have a lot to do.

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Ariel Sharon is National Infrastructure minister.


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