The Talking Dog

March 28, 2006, Israeli's Most Boring Politician wins its most Boring Election

That was the rap on the national elections in Israel for the 120 seat Knesset, that with Ariel Sharon in the hospital, and Kadima leader and ex-Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert essentially acting as a caretaker interim PM, even now as he is the elected head of the newly victorious Kadima Party, which looks like it will garner the most seats of any party in Israel's fractious national proportion electoral system (the same system now in place in Iraq and Italy, which explains the general political instability in both of those places... well, a small part of Iraq's problems, anyway). Israelis also thought it was boring, with a 63% turnout-- very low for Israel, though it would be an amazingly high turnout here.

It looks like Kadima will have somewhere between 29 and 32 seats, the re-energized Labour Party with around 20, the good-old-lefty Meretz Party with around 5 seats, and some Arab parties somewhere between 5 and 8 seats... though it is unclear if Arab parties will be invited into a governing coalition of a party founded by Ariel Sharon. The rump Sharon-less Likud Party headed by the loathsome Bibi Netanahu got around 10-12 seats, the worst dropoff of a ruling party in Israeli history.

And so... this is interesting (after all). As some of you know, this blog took tremendous interest in Israel's last national election some three years ago, when then Labour leader Amram Mitzna proposed a unilateral withdrawal from Gaza, building "the wall" and negotiations over withdrawal from everywhere else with whatever Palestinians wanted to negotiate. Since that time, Sharon's government (which trounced Mitzna in the election)... unilaterally withdrew from Gaza, built the wall... and has pretty much stopped talking to the Palestinians.

So where it goes now looks like Israel will simply do unilaterally what it could not do in the context of a deal: pull out of parts of the West Bank that it doesn't want (much of which reflect troublesome Palestinian population centers), while consolidating Israel's hold on Jerusalem, and some of the largest, best established settlement blocs.

In some sense, the Palestinians made this easier by electing Hamas (which today won a big confidence vote in the Palestinian parliament 71-36, paving the way for a Hamas led Palestinian government.) The Palestinians are now led by a group committed to the destruction of Israel... so why should Israel deal with them? Olmert has pledged to move to Israel's "final borders" more or less unilaterally.

This wasn't exactly how Mitzna would have done it. It is, of course, where Sharon was going. Israel has decided it can't really coexist with its Arab neighbors (other than those inside Israel willing to live as second class citizens)... so there's no point in prolonging it. Israel will now make peace on its own terms, and set its own "final borders".

We'll see how long that lasts.


Of course, in the real world one usually has to settle for second best solutions. The best solution here - such as a peace agreement with the Arabs, a real peace, like between the US and Canada, with open borders and free trade - is utterly impossible. Have you ever read in any of the Arab media any desire for a peace like that? Have you ever heard any Arab politician ever hold that out as their goal? So there's really no point in mourning what is not possible. The only issue is whether unilateral disengagement - withdrawal to militarily and demographically defensible borders - is more likely to protect Jewish lives than continuing down the so-called "peace process" road.

Posted by DBL at March 30, 2006 5:07 PM

Pretty much true; the perfect is the enemy of the good, and if, at the end of the day, what the Palestinians are left with by Israreli self-interested abandonment is sufficient land and resources for an ultimate viable independent state (including the ability to travel between Gaza and the West Bank, and between enclaves IN the West Bank, without endless Israeli checkpoints), then I agree 100%: who really cares how you get there.

I'm certainly familiar with maps of "Palestine" as if the Jewish State doesn't exist; there are also maps of Israel that fully integrate territories that everyone knows Israel will be giving up.

The reality, of course, is that Israel will not give up enough of anything to approach a self-sustaining Palestinian state: it will hold back the most desirable land for settlements and "defensive" purposes. (Israel, as a democracy, has its own constituencies to satisfy... it will have to make this somewhat palatable to them). Perhaps these hold-backs will be someday "negotiated"... perhaps not.

Gaza should have been a no-brainer: the Arabs don't even want it... the joke is at negotiations, the Palestians would always say "OK. we'll take Gaza; now what will you give us for taking it off your hands?"
And yet, evacuating a few thousand Jews from Gaza proved a wrenching, painful experience. Certainly, evacuating more long-standing "logical" West Bank settlements with much larger numbers of Jews will be even more wrenching... But its going to happen.

Abba Eban used to say that the Palestians (or the Arabs) never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity. They've gone ahead and elected Hamas. They've caught Israel at a moment when, with the momentum of getting out of Gaza and Sharon in and out of a coma, that this would have been a great chance to finally trade the "right of return" for cash and a final, decent land package (including Jerusalem divided as at Taba in the waning days of Ehud Barak)... instead... well, they elected Hamas (which, not surprisingly, at least yet, has not formally moderated its central tenets calling for destruction of the Jewish state).

That could be a reaction against the corruption and non-responsiveness of Fatah, but I think its also a validation that Palestinian opinion, after years of Intifada and humiliation, is hardened, and negotiations probably really are impossible, and at the end of the day, as usual, the ones who will be screwed most by this attitude will be Palestinians themselves.

But yes: at the end of the day, it was suggested to me that Israelis preferred the original Labour disengagement policies, but only if the policies were implemented by Sharon. And there we have arrived. As doing what Olmert proposes to do is better than not doing it, I'm all for it. Hopefully, it will bring something that is a closer facsimile of peace, stability and security than the present circumstances.

Posted by the talking dog at March 31, 2006 12:25 PM