A collection of the week's news from Israel
A service of the Bet El Twinning Committee of Beth Avraham Yoseph of Toronto
A collection of the week's news from Israel
February 9, 2001 - 16 Shvat 5761
Issue number 312
Others on the left, such as Meretz leader MK Yossi Sarid, blamed Peres himself for not having backed out of the race earlier and more unambiguously. Some Labor party seniors, such as Interior Minister Chaim Ramon, blamed Ehud Barak - for not having consulted with his peers and for other deficiencies. MK Avital said that the election may have been a referendum on the "policy chosen by Barak" or, alternatively, on the "way in which he conducted his policy." Ehud Barak himself, although he assumed personal responsibility for the loss, chose to blame the public: "[The path that I have chosen vis-a-vis the Palestinians] requires a heart-rending sacrifice, and it could be that the nation is not yet ready for it... On the other side, too [the Palestinians], the required readiness has not yet been exhibited... In a certain sense, we are ahead of our time..." Chemi Shalev, an Israeli commentator for CNN, said that the Israeli public was fed up with Barak's zig-zagging and felt "humiliated" at the continuing Palestinian violence.
MK Collette Avital said, "It's hard for me to believe that the nation said 'No' to peace. Before the current violence started, the public supported the peace process, but changed its mind sharply when the war started. This means to me that the public wants peace, but does not think it can be reached specifically with this partner at this point in time." She also tended to shift the focus of blame away from the "peace process" to the way in which it was carried out: "This loss tells me that the public wants to be treated seriously, and that when serious steps are taken, they must not be taken behind closed doors, but must rather be accompanied by a serious information campaign... I don't think they said 'No' to the peace process, but rather to Ehud Barak..." Dr. Yossi Olmert, Middle Eastern affairs expert who served as director of Israel's Government Press Office under Prime Minister Yitzchak Shamir responded, "With all due respect to Collette Avital, she and her colleagues on the left simply cannot admit the failure of their ideology, which, to put it simply, raises the ideal of peace above Zionism... What the Israeli public said in this landslide victory is that it does not want peace at any price. They do not want peace at the expense of dividing Jerusalem, for instance, but only under certain conditions. This is why I believe that Sharon doesn't have to talk so much about peace, because what people are concerned about now is security."
Dr. Aaron Lerner of IMRA seconded this point by noting recent poll statistics. Last month's Peace Index Project poll, conducted by the Tami Steinmetz Center for Peace Research at Tel Aviv University, shows that only 27.8% of the population is in favor of the Oslo agreements, while 42.9% are opposed. Asked about Barak's negotiations policy with the Palestinians, only 3.4% felt it was "too hard," while 70.4% felt that it was "too conciliatory;" the same number felt that the reason why the Palestinians did not sign a peace agreement with Barak is because "they are trying to get more concessions." (arutzsheva.org Feb 7)
Ariel Sharon: 1,618,110 valid votes or 62.5%
Ehud Barak: 967,760 valid votes or 37.4%
Number of Eligible Voters: 4,504,769
Total Ballots Cast: 2,664,255 (59.1%)
Invalid Ballots: 78,385
Valid Votes: 2,585,870
Near-final election results show that the television exit polls last night were way off the mark. Both channels predicted a 19% margin of victory for Sharon, while in fact the margin was more than 25%. The Jewish population in Israel voted for Sharon by an overwhelming 27% majority. Only 18-20% of the Arab public voted, and an estimated one-fifth of these did not vote for either candidate. The following are the election results for various cities and locations:
Jerusalem: 77.8% Sharon, 22.1% Barak
Tel AvivJaffa: 48.0% Sharon, 51.9% Barak
Haifa: 49.9% Sharon 50.0% Barak
Holon: 62.1% Sharon, 37.8% Barak
Bat Yam: 66.4% Sharon, 33.5% Barak
Tzfat: 85.1% Sharon, 14.8% Barak
Be'er Sheva: 70.7% Sharon, 29.2% Barak
Tiberias: 83.6% Sharon, 16.3% Barak
Ashkelon: 74.1% Sharon, 25.8% Barak
Ashdod: 75.4% Sharon, 24.5%
Caesarea 34.6% Sharon, 65.3% Barak
Katzrin (Golan): 67.6% Sharon, 32.3% Barak
Kokhav Ya'ir (Barak's home): 45.1% Sharon, 54.8% Barak
Kiryat Shmonah: 74.8% Sharon, 25.1% Barak
Kiryat Arba: 98.2% Sharon, 1.7% Barak
Kibbutz Kineret: 10.0% Sharon, 89.9% Barak
Taiba (Arab): 6.3% Sharon, 93.6% Barak
Nazareth (Arab): 11.0% Sharon, 88.9% Barak
Givatayim: 41.1% Sharon, 58.8% Barak
Ramat HaSharon: 38.1 Sharon, 61.8 Barak
Bet El: 100.0% Sharon, 0.0% Barak
(arutzsheva.org, Maariv Feb 7)
Arutz-7's Ariel Kahane asked, "Does this great margin of victory mean that the Likud can stick to its basic ideological positions, without a need to lean leftwards?" Shalom answered,"We would like to do this, but we may not be able to do this because we don't have a parliamentary majority." Kahane: "Then why not go for a right-wing coalition, and then you can stand fast on your familiar and original positions?".Shalom: "Even then things are not exactly the way they appear. A narrow government will be based on the Levy brothers and Meridor and Milo, as well as Yisrael B'Aliyah and Shas - whose positions are not exactly like ours... It's not as if we have so many options. This is why we have to begin by trying for as broad a government as possible, but if this doesn't work [i.e., if a unity government with Labor cannot be formed] then we will form a narrow government and leave an opening for Labor to join later. At present, there is no one with whom to talk in Labor, and since we don't have time to waste - and since we have to change the outgoing government's policies as fast as possible - we have to form a government as fast as possible." (arutzsheva.org Feb 7)
"Several minutes before I entered the hall, US President Bush called to relay his good wishes. He told me of his desire for close cooperation with the government which I will head. He recalled a tour we went on together of Samaria and the Jordan Valley, and reminded me that he had said then that one day he would be President and I would be Prime Minister. He said, 'No one may have believed it then, but here it is, I am President and you have just been elected Prime Minister.'- Excerpts from Prime Minister-elect Ariel Sharon's victory speech at 1 AM Wednesday morning at Likud election headquarters at the Tel Aviv Exhibition Grounds, which he began by remembering his late wife Lily and expressing his sorrow over her absence. Leaders and members of all of his potential national-camp coalition partners were there to greet him. (arutzsheva.org Feb 7)
"Today, the State of Israel has embarked on a new path: a path of domestic peace and harmony, and a striving for security and genuine peace¼ Over the years, differences of opinion and divisions have grown deeper in our nation and in our society. We have had our fill of animosity and senseless hatred. The time has come to focus on that which unites us, and reach a consensus as broad as possible. I know that there is a national yearning to stand together and face the challenges of the future. I issue a call from here for the establishment of a national unity government, with as many members as possible. I turn to the Labor party to walk with us together, on the basis of true partnership, along the difficult path to security and peace."
"The government that I will lead will work towards restoring security to the citizens of Israel, and towards achieving genuine peace and stability in the region. I know that peace means painful compromises on both sides. Any settlements reached will be based on security for all peoples in the region. I call upon our neighbors the Palestinians to abandon the path of violence and return to dialogue and pursuit of a resolution to the disagreements between us in a peaceful manner. The government which I will lead will work towards a realistic settlement which will safeguard the existential and historical interests of Israel, and will be based on mutual respect and the fulfillment of reciprocal obligations."
"We will open a new page in our relations with Israel's Arab citizens in an effort to create a true partnership, and a sense of equality between all citizens. The government that I will lead will raise the flag of social issues, alongside the flags of security and peace, with the top priority being education. Above these are the flag of Zionism, the flag of national honor, immigration and settlement of the Land. The government which I will establish will pursue the strengthening and building up of a united Jerusalem, the capital of Israel, and the eternal capital of the Jewish people for which we are forever obligated: "If I forget thee O Jerusalem, let my right hand lose its cunning. If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth, if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy." "We have a small country blessed with talent and rich in achievements. Let's begin tonight all of us 'as one man with one heart' on a new path. Together we can overcome all of the challenges before us. Together we can realize all of our hopes and dreams. Thank you all."
It means an opportunity to get Middle East policy on a more rational footing. Among the eclectic bunch of quotations and maxims Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has compiled and dubbed "Rumsfeld's Rules" is this one from former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres: "If a problem has no solution, it may not be a problem, but a fact, not to be solved, but to be coped with over time." It is a wise piece of advice, and all the more remarkable given its source. If there is any predicament for which that rule is apt, it is surely the Israeli-Arab conflict. Yet it never seemed to factor in Mr. Peres's vision for his own country, as his starry-eyed talk of forging a "New Middle East" made him all but unelectable in Israel and dragged America's recently departed President into what has to be considered one of the greatest American foreign policy failures of the past 50 years.
Now Ehud Barak, who tried desperately to finish the peace process that Messrs. Peres and Clinton helped start, is headed into the political sunset.
The near-simultaneous accession of Ariel Sharon and George W. Bush offers a unique opportunity to get Middle East policy back on a more rational footing. The President has expressed a healthy reluctance to intervene too much in Israeli-Palestinian affairs--exactly what Mr. Sharon says he wants. He has surrounded himself with a team of experienced hands with a track record of sobriety and success when it comes to dealings in the region: notably, Dick Cheney, Mr. Rumsfeld, and the new nominee for Deputy Secretary of Defense, Paul Wolfowitz. And he seems to understand--as Mr. Rumsfeld pointed out in his report on the developing ballistic missile threat, and though it may not win him a Nobel Prize--that there are more urgent priorities in the region than a final settlement in the West Bank. The President's decision to finally disburse some of the funds Congress has appropriated for the opposition Iraqi National Congress is a good sign that he may be ready to get serious about one of those dangers.
But the accord between Messrs. Bush and Sharon may go deeper than policy. The notoriously untraveled President actually knows Mr. Sharon, having once taken a helicopter tour of Israel guided by the Prime Minister-elect. He reportedly described the experience as one of the most moving of his life.
Such a relationship could be very important given the obstacles they'll face. Bill Clinton, after all, inherited a stable Middle East in which American power, in the aftermath of the unprecedented coalition that won the Gulf War, was almost unchallenged. After rehabilitating a down-and-out terrorist and putting him in charge of an armed state in the middle of Israel, he left a hotter Israeli-Arab conflict than at any time since 1973. In 1991, only rogue states like Iraq spoke openly of destroying Israel; in 2001, putative and payrolled U.S. allies like Egypt make it an official plank of foreign policy, backing Yasser Arafat's demands for demographic destruction of the Jewish state through the "right of return" of Palestinian refugees.
It's not, as even Mr. Sharon will tell you, that offering political autonomy to the Palestinians is inherently a bad idea. One party in this conflict came to find odious the task of occupying land acquired accidentally in a defensive war; the other party, understandably, was sick of being occupied. If they'd been, say, Belgians and Luxembourgers, a compromise might easily have been found. But Israel, led through most of the peace process by its Ashkenazi (European) Labor elite, clearly saw far more of itself in the Palestinians than was actually there. If anything good can be said of Mr. Barak's gamble at Camp David last summer, it's that he proved Mr. Arafat wasn't interested in Israel's best possible offer.
So it was left to Ariel Sharon and the Likud Party, traditionally backed by Jews of Middle Eastern origin, to tell the rude truth: We've lived among the Arabs; there's a volatile mix there of nationalist and Islamist ideas; and filling their metaphorical stomachs isn't necessarily going to warm their hearts. This may work over time, but we can't negotiate under fire.
A large majority of Israelis now understand that, and have voted for a well-deserved hiatus that, if nothing else, might help convince the Palestinian dictator that they aren't going to let the short election cycles of Israeli democracy push their leaders into reckless deals. They effectively said, to return to Mr. Peres's maxim, that this is not so much a problem but a fact--or "situation," as Israelis have taken to calling the recent violence. And until such time as the Palestinian Authority is willing to accept a solution compatible with the continued existence of a Jewish state, they can wait.
Now would be a good time for Mr. Bush to show he understands by fulfilling his very explicit campaign promise to begin moving the American embassy to Jerusalem as soon as he took office. Alarmists will say such a move would only complicate matters. But in fact it would send an important signal that Mr. Arafat very much needs to hear: that this will be a different kind of American Administration, one whose every move won't be dictated by fear of blowing the deal supposedly just around the corner. The U.S., like Israel, must establish that it too is prepared to wait. (Wall Street Journal Feb 7)
In the run-up to Ariel Sharon's resounding victory over Ehud Barak in yesterday's prime ministerial election, the question being asked in the Western news media was whether the hero of the 1967 and 1973 wars--and mastermind of the 1982 invasion of Lebanon--had shed his warlike ways. Mr. Sharon's campaign certainly tried to make it seem so, airing ads of him in grandfatherly poses with slogans like "Only Sharon will bring peace."
But then it emerged that last fall, before his candidacy was formally declared, Mr. Sharon had given an interview in which he described Palestinian strongman Yasser Arafat as a "murderer" and "liar." Mr. Sharon's detractors thought they had their smoking gun. "Sharon prefers the image of grandma, rather than the reality of the wolf," pounced Barak Justice Minister Yossi Beilin. An anti-Sharon banner on the highway from Haifa to Tel Aviv was even more alarmist: "On February 7, Take Shelter."
As it turned out, the scare tactics were for naught--as, I suspect, were the efforts to soften his image. For all the charges of being a loose cannon, Mr. Sharon is Israel's best-known quantity, a man whose fundamental outlook has remained impervious to nearly every change in political fashion. When I interviewed him last September (he declined all interviews with foreign media just prior to the election), he answered most of my questions with maps. You need so many miles of strategic depth to fend off this kind of attack, so many miles to fend off another kind, he explained. Later I learned he's been giving journalists the same lecture for decades.
And there lies part of the appeal: Mr. Sharon has always emphasized the need for hard deterrence, has always said Mr. Arafat is not to be trusted, has always thought the Oslo peace process a mistake, has always warned that a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza posed a grave threat to Israel's security. By calling Mr. Arafat a murderer, Mr. Sharon was merely putting into words what the events of the past four months have already confirmed to many Israelis.
But that doesn't fully account for Mr. Sharon's landslide victory--more than 25 percentage points over Mr. Barak. Until recently, he was widely thought of as the dinosaur of Israeli politics, too burdened by the reputed sins of his past to be a serious contender for Israel's highest office. His Likud Party rival, former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, remained the preferred opposition candidate until he unexpectedly bowed out in December. More remarkably, polls indicated that another former prime minister, Shimon Peres stood a chance of defeating Mr. Sharon had Mr. Barak relinquished the Labor Party slot.
To many, this suggests the election was less a landslide victory for Mr. Sharon than it was a landslide defeat for Mr. Barak. And indeed, even Israelis who had long nurtured suspicions of Mr. Sharon were plainly disgusted with the incumbent.
Partly this was a matter of his style. Mr. Barak governed as if he had been anointed rather than elected. Not only did he break his most important campaign promises--to keep Jerusalem and the Temple Mount off the negotiating table, to preserve defensible borders in the West Bank, to govern from the center--but he did it without any apparent pang of conscience or note of explanation. He seemed to be telling Israelis: This peace process is my magic show. I'm going to put my sidekick in a box and carve her in half. You may gasp in amazement. But be grown up enough to know I'm not really doing her harm.
Then there was the manner in which Mr. Barak pursued his policies. Perhaps on account of his military background, he seemed to think he could more effectively shape events through stealth and surprise than through patient diplomatic and political efforts. This was the case in his offer to return the Golan Heights to Syria, in his ahead-of-schedule withdrawal from southern Lebanon, in his breathtaking proposals to Mr. Arafat at Camp David. By the time he was through, he had not only thrown Israelis off balance but had lost all diplomatic leverage with the Palestinians. With nothing to negotiate and still no deal, it was not altogether surprising violence ensued.
But the final straw for many Israelis was the way Mr. Barak handled the intifada that began Sept. 28. Politically, the uprising was an opportunity for him to stand tough after a summer of appeasement. Instead, he presided over one humiliation after another--the lynching of two Israeli reservists in Ramallah, the rout of Israel's soldiers from Joseph's tomb in Nablus, the rescission of his own ultimatum to the Palestinians to stop the violence. Worse, he chose to accelerate the peace process, saying as recently as Friday that violence "is only natural" given the stage of negotiations. It was as if he were suggesting that the murder of two Israeli civilians by Palestinian gunmen the day before was a mere blood sacrifice on the altar of peace.
Given such a record, it's no surprise that Mr. Barak was voted out of office. Yet it would be wrong to contend that the election was simply a vote against him. It was a decisive vote against the "peace process" as it has been pursued by Mr. Barak. And it was a vote for Mr. Sharon, a man whose virtues became more attractive to Israelis as the country's situation became more dire.
Indeed, while there is a segment of the Israeli public whose enmity for Mr. Sharon serves as a kind of moral flame, many more Israelis see a man of real humanity--notably generous, ironic, sometimes foolish, sometimes canny, but most of all unyielding in his defense of Israel's cause. He is also a seasoned politician who knows how to give and get favors. For a country that thought it voted for national unity when it elected Mr. Barak in 1999, such skills matter. For now, it is government Israelis want, not "vision."
Of course, the apparent source of Mr. Sharon's current popularity is his reputation for toughness with Arabs. "It's our bully against their bully," was how Peace Now founder Avishai Margalit put it. This gets Mr. Sharon exactly wrong. Bullies use force to get their way; Mr. Sharon thinks that a failure to respond forcefully to bullying is an invitation for more. The new prime minister will surely crack down hard if Palestinians choose to test him. Israelis expect this of him, and rightly.
But most Israelis also know that Mr. Sharon is not the hard-line caricature of Sabra and Shatila notoriety, as many stories about him suggest. He was instrumental in the original Camp David accords with Egypt, as well as in the process that led to peace with Jordan; he helped engineer the Wye River accords; and he dismantled Israeli settlements in the Sinai. There is no inconsistency between Mr. Sharon's win and the willingness of most Israelis to "take risks" for peace. But much of the Western media is blind to this because the only sort of peace it believes in is the one defined by Mr. Barak and his cohort.
Israel's citizens knew when they went to the polls yesterday that they were not "saying no to peace," much less choosing war. What they rejected was a process in which things were supposed to get worse before they got better. They rejected the idea that the deliberate killing of some 550 Jews since the Oslo accords could be tolerated by the Jewish state. They rejected the fear that had motivated Yitzhak Rabin--and motivates Mr. Barak--that Israel must get whatever peace it can because it no longer has the stomach to go to war. They rejected submitting to the cant of liberal elites in order to win the approval of the Western governments. They rejected a policy of giving without getting, as if only that could expiate the terrible guilt of their existence on this land.
This is why Ariel Sharon won. (Wall Street Journal Feb 7)
The writer is an editorial page writer for The Wall Street Journal Europe.
Prime Minister Ehud Barak's overwhelming defeat by Ariel Sharon at the polls represents not a rejection of peace but a rejection of a failed political process that brought Israel the worst collapse of security in years. Yesterday was the culmination of a political free fall that began seven months ago at Camp David. There, Mr. Barak was willing to make far-reaching concessions to the Palestinians that were unacceptable to both the parliament and the people of Israel and that broke the explicit promises he had made to the electorate when running for office 20 months ago.
Mr. Sharon, who has devoted much of his life to defending Israel, has offered to form a national unity government with Mr. Barak's Labor party. Mr. Sharon's immediate task is rebuilding Israel's negotiating strength, restoring the personal safety of its citizens and putting Israel back on a steadier, more certain path toward peace.
After Mr. Barak became prime minister, principles that he had vowed never to abandon — like keeping Jerusalem united, controlling the strategically important Jordan Valley, not returning to the indefensible pre-1967 borders and refusing to allow Palestinian refugees to return to Israel — were swept aside with a startling alacrity. Remarkably, even the Temple Mount, the focal point of the Jewish people's national and religious life for 3,000 years, was put on the negotiating table by Mr. Barak.
While the people of Israel are prepared to pay a heavy price for a genuine peace, we are not prepared to pay any price. As the 400,000 Jews who last month assembled in Jerusalem to protest any attempt to redivide their ancient capital can attest, our nation has some eternal values on which we will never compromise. The violence and terror of the past few months came as no surprise to those who understand that peace with dictatorial regimes must be based on strength and deterrence. In the irresponsible manner in which he withdrew our forces from Lebanon, in refusing to respond adequately to terror and in negotiating under the threat of violence, Ehud Barak has projected weakness to our enemies — a weakness that only invited further aggression. Indeed, in his short tenure as prime minister, Mr. Barak's policies began to erode Israel's capability, built over decades, to deter aggression.
Above all, the Barak government failed to fulfill its primary duty to protect and defend the lives of Israel's citizens. In recent months, hardly a day went by without innocent civilians being murdered and maimed in acts of wanton terror. As the carnage continued to mount, the government's principal response was to beg our adversaries to accept concessions that would put the very future of our state in jeopardy.
Mr. Barak has lost this election not merely because of personal failings but because of failed policies. Unlike his government, the vast majority of Israelis have once again realized that our enduring conflict with the Palestinians is rooted in a dispute not over the borders of the Jewish state but over its very existence.
For years, Yasir Arafat has spoken out of both sides of his mouth. Paying lip service to the peace of the brave in front of Western audiences, Mr. Arafat has used his state-controlled news media to foment hatred against Jews and call for the destruction of Israel. While leaders like Anwar Sadat of Egypt and King Hussein of Jordan sought to prepare their peoples to live in peace with Israel, Mr. Arafat chooses instead to praise suicide bombers as national martyrs and preach a holy war to end the occupation of Palestine in spite of the fact that nearly 99 percent of Palestinians no longer live under Israeli rule but are under his own despotic regime.
Mr. Arafat has long told a hopeful West that all he demanded in return for peace was a West Bank state with East Jerusalem as its capital. But by rejecting precisely this proposal at Camp David, he proved that what he really wants is not a state next to Israel, but a state instead of Israel.
During my time as prime minister, some in the international community saw my policies as the obstacle to peace. But the last few months have convinced most Israelis that the real obstacle to peace is the enduring refusal of many Arab leaders to accept a Jewish state in the Middle East.
Until our adversaries recognize not only Israel's existence but also its legitimacy, Israel can afford to make only agreements based on security and deterrence.
The writer was Israel's ninth prime minister. (The New York Times Feb 7)
Ariel Sharon has already written an autobiography, but if he had not an apt title might be "From Pariah to Prime Minister." Sharon's extraordinary rehabilitation as political figure is still conditional, however, on his performance in the final and most fateful chapter of his remarkable journey.
The tempting and most hopeful analogy to apply to Sharon's incredible comeback is to the career of Winston Churchill. The British leader, perhaps the most important Western leader of the 20th century, was also considered a quirky and militant extremist before being ushered into power in a time of crisis.
The circumstances of Churchill's rise to power in 1940 were similar to the present moment, in that the public seems to have made an abrupt about face. Churchill's replacement of Chamberlain reflected disillusionment with a policy of appeasement, policies that Churchill called in April 1938 "buying a few years of peace." It is impossible to interpret the massive public rejection of Ehud Barak as solely a rejection of him personally; the landslide was a rejection of what the public believed to be a false road to peace.
Though the world may interpret the Israeli electorate's choice as a rejection of peace, the voters themselves disagree. A poll taken by the Steinmetz Center of Tel Aviv University last week found that 68 percent of the public believed that, in order to reach a peace agreement, Israel should be less conciliatory with the Palestinians. The poll also found, by a margin of 53 to 27 percent, that Israelis felt that Sharon was more able than Barak to "advance the peace process with the Palestinians while protecting the State of Israel's vital interests." In other words, Israelis have not given up on peace but, like the people of Britain in 1940, they have given up on what had for some years been billed as the only path to peace.
It is yet to be seen whether Sharon's leadership abilities will approach those of Churchill; what can already be said, however, is that the political challenge facing Sharon is different and arguably even more formidable. When Churchill became prime minister, Britain was already at war. Israel has not decided whether it is at war or not, and even if Israel were to defend itself against Palestinian attacks as if at war, the goal of the war would not be victory for its own sake but a means to a wide set of peace agreements.
For Sharon, the challenge of ending the sporadic terrorism that has continued over the past few months is inseparable from the challenge of unifying the nation behind a new approach to peace to replace the one the public has so soundly rejected. It is here that Sharon's political interests and his strategic understanding dovetail completely: without unity, both security and peace are virtually unachievable.
Today, the day after the election, the two familiar camps in Israel have been replaced by a more relevant division of the political landscape: those for unity and those against. This new division crosses party and ideological lines. Within the Labor Party, there are those who believe deeply in the need for a unity government, and those who are equally vehemently opposed. Within the Likud, the preference for a narrow right-wing government is also not negligible.
Feeding the forces against unity is the mantra that this election was a meaningless exercise, nothing but a way station to another contest a few months from now. Such deterministic, self-fulfilling thinking must be rejected on its face: This country is doomed to squander its best opportunity for unity only if its leaders choose to betray the popular will.
Let there be no mistake: Those who oppose unity are at best attempting to perpetuate dead and discredited ideologies at the expense of the national interest. At worst, they are pursuing craven personal interest at the expense of Israeli lives.
If we as a people have learned anything over the past four months and past seven years, it is that the Right's vision of a peace without Palestinian self-determination and the Left's vision of peace based on satisfying Palestinian demands are both fundamentally flawed. Further, we have learned that successive attempts of narrow right- and left-wing governments to pursue peace without fundamentally reconciling these two visions doomed them to political and practical failure.
Sharon wants a unity government. Barak deserves credit for stating clearly in his concession speech that Labor should not rule out the possibility of a unity government. But given the scope of his defeat and his swift retreat from public life, Barak is unlikely to be a decisive factor in the struggle within Labor over whether to join a Sharon government.
Whether Sharon succeeds in his quest for unity, then, will depend primarily on the patriotism of one man: Shimon Peres.
Netanyahu and Barak spent their short tenures looking over their shoulders at Sharon and Peres for legitimacy within their own parties. Sharon and Peres, as the ideological lodestones within their respective parties, have the power to create a synthesis between what remains of the ideologies of their respective historic camps. The election was a landslide for Ariel Sharon, but the burden of history lies no less heavily on Shimon Peres.
These two men, the most experienced in Israeli politics, can make history together, or let Israel's internal divisions continue to sap the national will and dash the prospects for either peace or security. (Jerusalem Post Feb 7)