Elections in Israel & Palestine:

Dynamics for Peace


The Palestinian and Israeli political lives have been inextricably linked since the beginning of the occupation in the aftermath of the Six-Day War of 1967. The various ramifications of this relationship have never been more apparent than in the past few months. For the first time in history, Israelis and Palestinians are going to the polls almost around the same time early next year. The Palestinian Legislative Council elections scheduled in January 2006 and the earlier-than-scheduled Israeli general elections in March have brought this merger between Palestinian and Israeli political realities to an apex. The trends and outcome of the two elections can create new dynamics for peace between the two adversaries locked in a vicious cycle of violence since the beginning of the second Intifada five years ago.

Implications of Israeli Election

Two major political bombshells that precipitated the Israeli election season, namely, Ariel Sharon's departure from the Likud Party and the elevation of Amir Peretz as the head of the Labor party, have the potential to dramatically realign Israeli politics and bear upon the prospects of peace. On November 21, Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon left the Likud Party and formed the National Responsibility Party, also known as Kadima. Peretz was able to defeat Shimon Peres, on the perception that the Labor party was losing out to the Likud on various domestic and foreign policy issues, especially the 'peace with Palestinians' agenda.

Last year, Peres had managed to convince the Labor bosses that the party's assistance to Sharon was crucial in order to generate a broad political base for disengagement from Gaza. With Labor's support Sharon was able to successfully counteract the rebels within his own Likud Party who opposed the withdrawal. However, with disengagement complete, Peres failed to provide any further justification for remaining in the 'National Unity' government. Peretz's decision to pull the Labor Party out of the ruling coalition precipitated Sharon's decision to break from the Likud. While Sharon's decision to leave Likud was probably driven by his desire to fashion himself as the chief architect of the future borders of Israel, Peretz's election as Labor leader was an important factor in Sharon's decision.

The Likud split could possibly make way for the alignment of Israeli political parties to more closely reflect the views of the Israeli public on the issue of relations with Palestinians. Currently, two-thirds of Israelis support a two-state solution with the Palestinians. A percentage of this fraction belonged to the Likud Party and was represented by Sharon. Likud is primarily backed by 'Greater Israel' and 'security-minded' supporters who oppose Palestinian statehood and can be grouped as hardliners. The Land of Israel people advocate annexation of Palestinian territories and establishment of Jewish settlements in all of Israel/Palestine. The security people advocate continued occupation because of the supposed strategic value of the settlements. Thus, Likud is more ideologically eclectic than the Labor Party, nearly all of whose members support a two-state solution. In event of another national unity government after Israeli general election, Peretz would find it more acceptable to make a coalition with Kadima than with Likud.

The ideological heterogeneity within the Likud Party diluted Sharon's authority. Sharon believes he is personally responsible for attracting popular support that won forty seats for the Likud in 2003 parliamentary elections. Yet the party's more ideological activists believe that it was Likud's opposition to territorial concessions that won the ruling mandate. This segment prompted the Likud-led government to thwart any the chances of resuming negotiations during its term. Many in the Likud considered the Gaza pullout as surrender to violence. Moreover, a Likud Central Committee comprised of hawkish activists would have determined the next Knesset list, implying Sharon would not be able to ensure broad parliamentary backing for any future dealing with the Palestinians. However, Sharon understood that any new government he would form would be a repeat of the current imbroglio. The right wing would continue to oppose rational policies regarding the Palestinians.

Sharon's party could revitalize the political centre in Israel; the centre that has collapsed in the past five years marked by terror and violence. Sharon now has the ideological flexibility to form coalitions with other like-minded parties (for example Yosef Lapid's Shinui Party) and engage parties of the left and right after the elections. Under Peretz, Labor will be more resolutely left-leaning on both the Palestinian and its social-democratic agenda. If Benjamin Netanyahu leads Likud, it could take a more consistent right-leaning approach to the Palestinians. Sharon is hoping that he will also attract a large number of Labor voters, with a centrist policy that calls for disengagement, peace, and development projects within Israel.

There are signs that Peretz would try to demonstrate that he is similar to Sharon when it comes to supporting Israeli control of settlement blocs, largely adjacent to the 1967 ceasefire lines. Outgoing housing minister Isaac Herzog announced on November 22 that he consulted with Peretz about building 350 units inside Ma'aleh Adumim. Peretz is considered a 'dove' on the question of peace with the Palestinians and in the past has supported the Peace Now movement that opposes Israeli settlements in the occupied territories. However, Peretz is aware of the previous Labour leader Amram Mitzna's disastrous showing against Sharon in the 2003 elections, when the former general stressed his 'dovishness'. Therefore, the question is how he will move more to the middle, coming close to mirroring Sharon's position on the Palestinian issue.

These developments in Israeli politics have the potential to bring on serious electoral competition that could lead to real change in the composition of the government and enhance the prospects of future peace negotiations.

Implications of Palestinian election

In the light of the shift to the centre among the Israeli electorate, it appears likely that moderate Palestinians, who advocate peaceful settlement of the conflict, might succeed in recruiting additional public support in the upcoming Legislative Council elections. The results of the latest poll conducted by the Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip between December 6-8, 2005, showed that 50 percent of the Palestinians will vote for the moderate ruling Fateh as compared to 32 percent for Hamas; 9 percent would vote for other factions and groups including independents, and 9 percent remain undecided. In addition, concessions and gestures by Israel on sensitive issues such as the modalities of the Gaza crossings, and release of political prisoners could also encourage a dovish Palestinian vote.

The participation of the primary Islamic opposition, Hamas, in the elections in Palestine, would not only strengthen the Palestinian Authority, but also the peace camp. This is the second election within the framework of the Oslo Accords; the first was held in 1996, which was boycotted by political Islamic groups. The more inclusive such an election is, the more comprehensive the acceptance of the vision and spirit of Oslo and thus must be considered as a step forward for peace.

The Intifada years have seen two developments of far-reaching importance in Occupied Palestine. These developments have had detrimental effects on the course of the peace process and carry the possibility of disrupting the same in the future. The first development is Israel's continued and relentless onslaught on the Palestinian people and indeed the peace process itself: superimposing unilateralism over bilateral negotiations, building of the West Bank separation wall, economic strangulation of Gaza due to frequent border closure, and swelling ranks of Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli prisons. This has led to strengthening of Islamic groups, evident in Hamas' win over Fateh, the ruling party, in the municipal elections in May and December 2005, reflecting the shifting grounds of Palestinian political landscape.

The second development has been the long running crisis facing Fateh. Palestinian Legislative Council member Dr Hannan Ashrawi comments: 'Fateh lost much of its support because it adopted a failed peace process during the 1990s. Furthermore, as the party in power, Fateh is now blamed for all the ills that plague the Palestinian Authority. This has caused popular support to shift to Hamas and other Islamic groups. Fateh needs to rapidly put its house in order to influence the outcome of the January elections.' What further weakens Fateh's position is the recent infighting that has accompanied the primaries, resulting in its split. Fateh must stem this internal deterioration, which could sway the undecided votes away from the party, weakening its peace agenda.

A significant impact of the Palestinian elections will be the change in the nature of the Palestinian political system, shifting its source of internal legitimacy from charismatic leadership to institutions based on political participation. With the elections, the president will no longer be the Palestinian National Authority's principal pivot, which will move to the Legislative Council, expected to operate according to parliamentary norms and contain a strong opposition. This democratic transformation will not only result in enhanced internal stability for the Palestinian society but will also result in a council more secure over the negotiating table.

The result of Palestinian election is bound to influence elections in Israel. If Hamas, which opposes a two-state solution, scores what would appear to Israelis to be significant electoral gains, thereby presumably guaranteeing its greater influence over Palestinian policymaking, this will likely damage the election prospects of the Israeli left and Labour, both of which advocate renewing peace negotiations. It could also influence the Kadima platform: Ariel Sharon currently denies any future intention to carry out another unilateral disengagement, preferring to subscribe to roadmap-based two-state concept in the hope of appealing to voters from both the left and right. Sharon could conceivably feel encouraged to abandon ambiguity and state plainly that he represents the only alternative remaining for the large majority of voters: more disengagement. On the other hand, if Fateh emerges stronger in the Palestinian elections, and Hamas weaker, Labour and two-state solution supporters might improve their position in the Israeli elections. One way or another, the two elections, and the entailed coalition-building, can be expected to create condition impacting peace process in influential ways.


The proximity of the two elections has created a situation, in which the participating actors in both Israel and the Palestine must enunciate, almost simultaneously, their acceptance of the sovereign national existence of the other ' the key basis for a lasting peace settlement. Running on a platform of reconciliation and peace, the ruling Fatah Party envisions a two-state solution with peaceful relations between Israel and Palestine. As regards to Hamas, it participation in the democratic electoral process would diminish its functions as a rebellious armed force, impelling the Islamic party into accepting a negotiated peace agreement. In Israel today, there are central actors who support a Palestinian state. At least three parties, Labour, Meretz and Shinui, declare this in their electoral propaganda and Ariel Sharon's Kadima party too might include such a plank in its platform. Evident substantial changes in the political arena on both sides signal that an accord based on a two-state solution bringing lasting peace just might be conceivable. 


More by :  Sujata Ashwarya Cheema

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Views: 3462      Comments: 2

Comment It is indeed tragic that most of us simply swallow the lies of the powerful without making any attempt to hear all sides and discover the truth and reality.
Telling It Like It Isn't by Robert Fisk, December 31, 2005 

I first realized the enormous pressures on American journalists in the Middle East when I went some years ago to say goodbye to a colleague from the Boston Globe. I expressed my sorrow that he was leaving a region where he had obviously enjoyed reporting. I could save my sorrows for someone else, he said. One of the joys of leaving was that he would no longer have to alter the truth to suit his paper's more vociferous readers.
"I used to call the Israeli Likud Party 'right wing,' " he said. "But recently, my editors have been telling me not to use the phrase. A lot of our readers objected." And so now, I asked? "We just don't call it 'right wing' anymore."
Ouch. I knew at once that these "readers" were viewed at his newspaper as Israel's friends, but I also knew that the Likud under Benjamin Netanyahu was as right wing as it had ever been.
This is only the tip of the semantic iceberg that has crashed into American journalism in the Middle East. Illegal Jewish settlements for Jews and Jews only on Arab land are clearly "colonies," and we used to call them that. I cannot trace the moment when we started using the word "settlements." But I can remember the moment around two years ago when the word "settlements" was replaced by "Jewish neighborhoods" or even, in some cases, "outposts."
Similarly, "occupied" Palestinian land was softened in many American media reports into "disputed" Palestinian land - just after then-Secretary of State Colin Powell, in 2001, instructed U.S. embassies in the Middle East to refer to the West Bank as "disputed" rather than "occupied" territory.
Then there is the "wall," the massive concrete obstruction whose purpose, according to the Israeli authorities, is to prevent Palestinian suicide bombers from killing innocent Israelis. In this, it seems to have had some success. But it does not follow the line of Israel's 1967 border and cuts deeply into Arab land. And all too often these days, journalists call it a "fence" rather than a "wall." Or a "security barrier," which is what Israel prefers them to say. For some of its length, we are told, it is not a wall at all - so we cannot call it a "wall," even though the vast snake of concrete and steel that runs east of Jerusalem is higher than the old Berlin Wall.
The semantic effect of this journalistic obfuscation is clear. If Palestinian land is not occupied but merely part of a legal dispute that might be resolved in law courts or discussions over tea, then a Palestinian child who throws a stone at an Israeli soldier in this territory is clearly acting insanely.
If a Jewish colony built illegally on Arab land is simply a nice friendly "neighborhood," then any Palestinian who attacks it must be carrying out a mindless terrorist act.
And surely there is no reason to protest a "fence" or a "security barrier" - words that conjure up the fence around a garden or the gate arm at the entrance to a private housing complex.
For Palestinians to object violently to any of these phenomena thus marks them as a generically vicious people. By our use of language, we condemn them. 
We follow these unwritten rules elsewhere in the region. American journalists frequently used the words of U.S. officials in the early days of the Iraqi insurgency - referring to those who attacked American troops as "rebels" or "terrorists" or "remnants" of the former regime. The language of the second U.S. pro-consul in Iraq, L. Paul Bremer III, was taken up obediently - and grotesquely - by American journalists.
American television, meanwhile, continues to present war as a bloodless sandpit in which the horrors of conflict - the mutilated bodies of the victims of aerial bombing, torn apart in the desert by wild dogs - are kept off the screen. Editors in New York and London make sure that viewers' "sensitivities" don't suffer, that we don't indulge in the "pornography" of death (which is exactly what war is) or "dishonor" the dead whom we have just killed. Our prudish video coverage makes war easier to support, and journalists long ago became complicit with governments in making conflict and death more acceptable to viewers. Television journalism has thus become a lethal adjunct to war.
Back in the old days, we used to believe - did we not? - that journalists should "tell it how it is." Read the great journalism of World War II and you'll see what I mean. The Ed Murrows and Richard Dimblebys, the Howard K. Smiths and Alan Moorheads didn't mince their words or change their descriptions or run mealy-mouthed from the truth because listeners or readers didn't want to know or preferred a different version.
So let's call a colony a colony, let's call occupation what it is, let's call a wall a wall. And maybe express the reality of war by showing that it represents not, primarily, victory or defeat, but the total failure of the human spirit.

Robert Fisk is Middle East correspondent for the London Independent and the author, most recently, of "The Great War for Civilization: The Conquest of the Middle East," published last month by Knopf.

January 10, 2006

Gaurang Bhatt
10-Jan-2006 20:35 PM

Comment Dear Mr Gaurang Bhatt,
Thank you for forwarding the article by Robert Fisk to me. This article reminds me of Pierre Vidal Naquet's book Assassins of Memory on website www.anti-rev.org, which I read recently. Naquet argues at length to show how Germans couched the entire Holocaust in semantics, denying that any mass extermination of Jewish people ever took place. Naquet and other French writers mentioned on the website through their 'scholarly' work attempt to save the 'memory of the Holocaust' from earlier 'obfuscation' and recent questionings by 'revisionist', who want to open a 'fresh' chapter on what really happened at the concentration camps (I must add a note of caution that some border on anti-semitism).
I am amazed at the ferocity with which this particular Jewish memory is defended/protected by the (Jewish) writers on this website and at other places, epitomized in the symbols and narratives employed by the State of Israel, and the ease with which Palestinian narratives and symbols are sought to be annihilated by Jews/Israelis. For instance, in total derogation of al-naqba (Palestinian dispersal and devastation in 1948), there is an Israeli documentary movie called 'Reunification of Jerusalem' (which I saw on the eve of Israeli Independence Day, Hatzmauth, celebrations in Jerusalem). It is about the Six-Day War of 1967 in which the Israelis seized and occupied West Bank, Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem. The note of 'fated-ness' of the reunification of the 'Land of Israel' and 'breast-beating' triumphalism in the documentary was nauseating, to say the least. Jerusalem was united, we were told. The ease with which the entire narrative of the movie left out the Arabs stood out starkly. I wonder which 'unification' the Israelis were driving at? If it were the people, the East Jerusalemites, the Arabs rejected the whole occupation in various ways and given the restriction imposed on Arabs on travelling to Jewish West Jerusalem, the unification narrative was but a tool to subjugate the Palestinians.
More from my own experiences in Israel
The house in Ein Karem, where my friends and I had dinner on the New Year's Eve in 2002 belonged to an Arab family, who was forced to abandon it in 1948. It was occupied by a Jewish family, who later sold it to a Jew of Indian origin. The property is worth millions at the current market rate.
In a minor altercation, which my friend, Ahmed, an Israeli Palestinian, got into with an Israeli security guard is instructive how the memory of the pre-1948 Palestine lives in the mid and hearts of the Palestinians despite attempts to destroy it. Ahmad was asked by the Hebrew University student security personnel to remove his car parked near the gate that led to the dorm complex (I must say that the car was neither obstructing traffic nor people; possible the security guard's fear was whipped up by the fact that it belonged to an Arab and during that time intifada was at its height). An infuriated Ahmad yelled, 'Ha aretz le mishpakha sheli. Ataa lo yodaat? (This land belonged to my family, don't you know?)
My friend Miriam always wore a chador to the university. She told me that she wanted to assert her Arab identity.
While Israel seeks to preserve itself by narratives, counter-narratives, myths, and symbols, it forcefully denies the same for another national group, namely the Palestinians. From Golda Meir's (in) famous statement 'Who are the Palestinians ' they do not exist,' through Begin's, 'Palestinians are two-legged beasts,' to Netanyahu's 'Hashbarah' (propaganda) industry calling Jordan Palestine and seeking population transfer - the denial of Palestinian identity and their dehumanization continues unabated. And no wonder a colony becomes a benign neighborhood, occupation becomes merely (legal) dispute over land and an apartheid wall becomes a measly fence. The process of distortion of history and inversion of lives and continues unabated!!  

January 10, 2006

10-Jan-2006 20:35 PM

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