Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Israeli Elections

I write this post as Israelis go to the polls. At the moment- despite a large segment of the voting public still apparently undecided- it looks like Kadima will emerge as the largest party. The Prime Minister is someone who has been catapulted into international recognition only very recently. Ehud Olmert seems likely to become the new Prime Minister. As his political star rises, another one seems on the wane: Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud Party is fighting for relevance. Formed from Yabotinsky's maximalist Revisionist Zionist Party, later led by Menachem Begin, Likud suffers from the fact that Isrealis now overwhelmingly support a two-state solution, and withdrawals from some of the occupied territories annexed during the 1967 war.

So, what does this mean for the state of Israel and Palestine? There are moments in history and politics where seismic changes allow the far-sighted politician to shape events more easily then a normal state of affairs with its vested interests and counterveiling coalitions. One such moment was the election of Hamas in the occupied territories. Whilst it would be foolish to deny the horrors that Hamas have been responsible for, it is also narrow-minded not to conceive of the potential benefits as well as the downsides of their electoral prominence. Elected mainly due to the preceived corruption of the Fatah government, Hamas's position on the destruction of Israel is not widely shared by the people who voted for them. One poll showed that 60% of Palestinians wanted to open peace talks with Israel.

So the Palestinian elections, and now the Israeli Knesset elections, provide a brief window to move forward bilaterally. Just as only Nixon could go to China, only Hamas can deliver a real peace on the Palestinian side, and the demise of Likud means that Olmert can count on most of Israel's support for a genuine two-state solution, which so recently was the call only of the peacenik Left. There are still many hurdles to overcome, and a lot will depend on the relative strengths of coalition partners like Labour and Meretz compared to the more hardline religious parties, but Hamas must realise that just as a window is open, it can shut very quickly. With a decent mandate, Olmert can withdraw from huge parts of the West Bank, and draw de facto borders to Israel for the first time. Palestine will be able to run its own affairs, but they will lose land to the wall, have little to no sovereignty over Jerusalem and will not get an inch on the right to return. If Israel does not think that it has a chance bilaterally, it will assert its might unilaterally no matter what the Palestinians think. As far as Olmert is concerned, he cannot afford to wait: "The most painful moment of my life was the day I discovered that simple arithmetic was more powerful than the history and geography of Israel....I realised to my horror that, if we insist on holding on to everything, by 2020 there will be 60% Arabs and 40% Jews" (The Times, March 28 2006 pp.35). With Olmert threatening to draw borders on his own, is it any wonder that Hamas are beginning to make noises about peace?

Temporarily the window is open, and now is the time for statesmen to assert their will and give their people justice.


  • At 9:33 pm , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Oh well... it's good to feel slightly further from the verge of world war III. I can't really feel happy that Ariel Sharon has won an election but it certainly could be worse.


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