In Israel and Palestine, the two ruling parties have split. First Likud begat Kadima ("forward"), then Fateh begat Mustaqbal ("future"). These two parallel political dynamics in Israel and Palestine do not appear to have much in common, perhaps with the exception of the admission of some of the Mustaqbal founders that they drew inspiration from PM Ariel Sharon's decision to leave the Likud and strike out on his own. Nor does it appear likely that the two dynamics will contribute to achieving a mutually agreed political goal.
In Israel, Kadima is largely a one-man party. That man, Sharon, at 78, is a very strong leader, and his new party represents the prospect of ongoing and relatively stable rule by a representative of the old guard who has a successful new idea, disengagement. True, the long-term future of such a party is shrouded in uncertainty, and Sharon's health is now in question. But the virtual collapse of the Likud with its rotten institutions appears to be a healthy development in Israeli politics. So does the parallel emergence of Amir Peretz as leader of the "other" fossilized party, Labor. Nor does it appear likely that Likud and Kadima will get back together prior to Israel's March 28 elections.
In Palestine, the split between Fateh and Mustaqbal appears to reflect, first and foremost, the weakness of the leader, President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen). The rift reflects anarchy rather than the search for a new order: no fewer than 14 Fateh personalities appear on both lists. This seeming fiasco weakens the claim of both Fateh parties to rule, with Hamas poised to take advantage of yet another display of establishment decay. Everyone in Palestine seems to understand this; hence the frantic attempts to reunite the two Fateh factions--or at least to minimize the significance of their split, which involves primarily personalities rather than issues--in an effort to save something of Fateh's power in the January 25 elections.
As matters now stand, and factoring in the Islamists' dramatic gains in last week's Palestinian municipal elections, Hamas will achieve significant influence within the next Palestinian Legislative Council.
Accordingly, its extremism will become an element of influence on the next Palestinian government, obliging it to adopt more hard line positions regarding negotiations with Israel. This will strengthen the argument of those Israelis who claim that "there is no viable negotiating partner" on the Palestinian side. In turn, it will make it easier for the next Israeli government--vis-a-vis the US administration and the Israeli public alike--to reject the path of negotiations. Sharon and his followers in any case appear more interested in an additional unilateral disengagement than in talks with Abu Mazen.
In other words, the major splits in the ruling parties on both sides of the green line--however different in nature and outcome--increase the likelihood that, in the best case, the next phase in the Israeli-Palestinian process will be phase two of disengagement rather than negotiations.
Palestinians from the Fateh mainstream and the secular left blame Sharon's policies for weakening the Fateh-dominated polity and enhancing the power of the Islamists. There is undoubtedly some truth in this accusation: at the height of the intifada, Sharon decimated Palestinian Authority security institutions militarily without sufficient justification; he has avoided taking reasonable steps that could have strengthened Abu Mazen's rule; and he has shunned negotiations that might enable Abu Mazen to justify a tougher stance toward troublemakers in his own camp. Moreover, lest we forget, long before Sharon's time as prime minister it was Israel that aided and abetted the very formation of Hamas in Gaza, precisely in order to weaken Fateh and the PLO.
But these same Palestinians also have themselves to blame, and if they don't address the weaknesses within their own society that have brought about this situation, their future will be dim indeed. The Fateh "bolsheviks" and political dinosaurs from Tunis are not holding onto power in Ramallah because of Israel; Yasser Arafat did not cultivate corruption and violence because of Israel. If Hamas exploits the current disarray among secular Palestinians in order to establish itself in power, this will reflect overwhelming regional trends, along with significant mistakes by Abu Mazen (and George W. Bush, who has supported this version of Palestinian democracy), more than any contribution by Israel.
The next Israeli government will have to find a way to move forward, despite these problematic prospects for the Palestinian future.- Published 19/12/2005 © bitterlemons.org
Yossi Alpher is coeditor of the bitterlemons family of internet publications. He is former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University and was a senior adviser to PM Ehud Barak.
A PALESTINIAN VIEW
Shaking out of stagnation
by Ghassan Khatib
Beyond a similarity of name and the fact that their creation is potentially hugely significant for the future, the two new parties recently established in Palestine and Israel have nothing in common.
In Israel, the split in the Likud party and the return of the Labor party as an active opposition, is bringing some dynamism to a stagnant political scene and engaging again a public that had become despondent and apathetic. The absence of any debate or opposition in Israel had given carte blanche to the right wing Israeli government to build material and psychological walls. Paradoxically, these walls created a kind of ghetto for Israelis as well as the cantons they created for Palestinians.
The return of dynamic and healthy politics in Israel will hopefully serve the political process to which a majority of Israelis still subscribe.
The recent developments on the internal Palestinian scene are no less exciting and have even more potential for creating change. The split in Fateh, which came as a surprise to nobody, was an inevitable outcome of a combination of the tribal and patriarchal nature of Fateh and the inability of Fateh's leadership to respond to internal and external challenges.
The split became inevitable once Fateh decided to hold primaries in order to select candidates for the upcoming parliamentary elections. With no fixed membership, something that used to be a source of pride to its leaders, it was a recipe for chaos. There was never a need for membership before, because decisions such as selecting candidates and leaders in the movement were always made by Arafat, the charismatic "father figure".
With the absence of such a father figure and the absence of any alternative institutional mechanism, it wasn't possible to agree on who should represent the movement in elections, creating instead unbridgeable differences that produced the two lists of candidates we see now. Beyond a competition for power, it's still early to understand the fundamental differences that led to the split. Generational differences, although a factor, are not enough to explain why this happened.
One thing certainly played its part. The Palestinian public, as evidenced in many ways including through public opinion polls, is not satisfied with the Fateh leadership. The loss of confidence in the performance of all government institutions led to a sense that Fateh, as the party in power, was to blame. This in turn led to the fear within Fateh that the party stood to lose power. Different sectors within Fateh have drawn their own conclusion as to how to find a way out.
Another significant aspect of Fateh's crisis is that the peaceful approach of its new and promising leader Mahmoud Abbas, already controversial among the public and within Fateh itself, has been unsuccessful in moving forward the Palestinian cause. This is a direct result of the Israeli insistence to ignore him as a partner and deny him any political achievement that could have empowered him, both inside his party and with the public at large.
The international community and the United States, which were rightly excited about the election of Abu Mazen, apparently did not realize until very late that without energizing the political process and improving the Palestinian economy, the politics and the kind of politician that Abu Mazen represents might run into trouble. It was too late when the Quartet finally became properly active and helped nail down the agreement on the Gaza crossing points.
Adding to the woes of the Palestinian leadership is the challenge of Hamas and other hardliners in and out of Fateh and the insistence of Israel and recently the American Congress and the EU to keep doing and saying exactly the things that strengthen Hamas. The Israeli, American and European political targeting will only enhance the public standing of Hamas and improve its chances in the elections.
However you look at it, the new dynamics on both sides, and the way the international community will choose to interact with them, are going to be decisive in creating a new situation and new opportunities and/or dangers. At the very least, the conflict will be shaken out of the stagnation it has found itself in for the past year or two.- Published 19/12/2005 © bitterlemons.org
Ghassan Khatib is coeditor of the bitterlemons family of internet publications. He is the Palestinian Authority minister of planning and has been a political analyst and media contact for many years.
AN ISRAELI VIEW|
New frameworks for old problems
by Akiva Eldar
With elections approaching in Israel and the territories, both sides are experiencing shocks that call into question political concepts as well as party frameworks. The ruling parties, Likud and Fateh, are paying a heavy price for their difficulties in adapting their ideologies to changes in the mood of the Israeli public and the Palestinian street.
The primary catalyst of these changes is Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his decision to withdraw unilaterally from the Gaza Strip and remove four settlements from the northern West Bank. His success in removing 7,000 settlers and freeing Israel of responsibility for over a million and a half Palestinians changed the agenda of the ruling parties in Israel and the territories. That dramatic move cast doubt on the Likud's traditional strategy and led to a schism between tough ideological loyalists and pragmatists and opportunists.
In Palestine the reverse happened: the unilateral approach pulled the rug out from under the pragmatists, the Oslo circle that advocates a political approach, and rendered them irrelevant. This played into the hands of both Hamas, which opposes political compromise with Israel, and the young Fatah leadership that knows how to exploit the inability of the veterans to persuade their Israeli "partners" to provide even measly concessions like convoys between Gaza and the West Bank, removal of checkpoints and release of prisoners.
The split within the Likud and the mass move to Sharon's new party, Kadima, are likely to end Likud rule and push the other traditional ruling party, Labor, into second place. In contrast to the argument of most Israeli political analysts, and despite the new doubts surrounding Sharon's health, Kadima's strategy will remain popular; it won't disappear when Sharon leaves the political arena. Kadima might lose some public support, but its strategy has already moved to the center of the Israeli political debate. Leftists will vote for Kadima because they don't believe the Likud wants to get out of the territories--and don't believe Labor can.
The Likud symbolizes the stagnation of the peace process, while Labor promises to renew it. The opinion polls tell us that a large majority of the Israeli public supports renewed negotiations but doesn't believe there is a Palestinian partner. Kadima proposes to part with the majority of Palestinians without waiting for the emergence of a negotiating partner. Any lingering doubts about the lack of a Palestinian partner were dispelled by the split within Fateh and Hamas' massive achievement in local elections.
In the territories as in Israel, the public is fed up with the political establishment because of the image projected by the leadership: corrupt and power-hungry politicians. For years Kadima's leaders, and first and foremost Sharon, were part and parcel of that same gang. But they have successfully shaken off the negative image and pinned it instead on the Likud Central Committee. Their apparent determined aspiration to dismantle most of the settlements and isolate the Palestinians behind a fence has reinforced their new image.
Alongside the ideological and organizational factors, the human element is at work on both sides. Sharon's determination to carry out redeployment made him the most popular political personality in Israel since David Ben Gurion. He is considered the only leader who can implement far-reaching political moves while maintaining internal consensus and wholehearted international support. Neither Binyamin Netanyahu nor Amir Peretz can offer the public Sharon's combination of charisma, experience and close relations with the US president, all wrapped up in a fresh new party where you can find everything: right, left, center, a campaigner for secular rights alongside an ultra-orthodox activist, labor union leaders together with captains of industry.
Fateh's traditional leadership suffers from the absence of a leader like Sharon who could step into Yasser Arafat's shoes. The grey, uncharismatic Abu Mazen (President Mahmoud Abbas) has failed to fill the vacuum. Sharon and President Bush are not volunteering to help him, and Hamas misses no opportunity to trip him up and gain points.
However the political forces in Israel and the territories line up in the end, the changes in both sides' political maps do not appear to bespeak good news for the voters.- Published 19/12/2005 © bitterlemons.org
Akiva Eldar is a senior columnist and editorial writer for the Israeli daily Haaretz and co-author of the book Lords of the Land: The Settlers and the State of Israel, 1967-2004 (Hebrew).
A PALESTINIAN VIEW
Mission not vision
an interview with Mahdi Abdul Hadi
bitterlemons: We have recently seen the creation of two new parties, one in Palestine and one in Israel. Beyond their names and the fact that they split from existing ruling parties, do they have anything in common?
Abdul Hadi: No. There are big differences between the two in terms of their backgrounds, agendas, personnel and what they promise for the future. Ariel Sharon is now a one-man party and his Kadima party will live as long as he lives. Hence the crisis regarding Sharon's health. No one knows what will happen after Sharon. This should be a warning to Israelis as well as those concerned about a two-state solution.
Sharon has a very clear position. He wants a new line of partition with Palestine. This he is creating, one, with the wall, taking more land and more water; and two, by dividing what remains of Palestine into four cantons: Nablus, Tulkarm and Jenin in one, Ramallah another, Hebron a third and Gaza a fourth. Jerusalem is completely out of the equation. These districts will be connected by tunnels and bridges to maintain law and order and provide security for Israeli settlers.
The Judaization of Jerusalem is at the top of his agenda, however, and he aims to empower settlers and the settlement project in the West Bank. Meanwhile, he is looking for an Arab solution to what is left of Palestine, i.e., Egypt through the security file in Gaza, and Jordan through the economic and social ties in the West Bank.
bitterlemons: So Sharon is now making his last play?
Abdul Hadi: In a way, but it's worth comparing it to Rabin's last days. It was unexpected when Rabin left the stage and it will be unexpected when Sharon goes. The problem when this happens, as when it happened before, is that the Israeli public will be left to choose between a divided Likud, a weak Labor, fragmented leftists and the rise of religious Zionism. This will take us through another transition period, and another painful process until a new leader arises. The absence of a system that can protect the agenda of a leader is the basic problem in Israel. We saw it after Rabin. Peres was a political hypocrite who could not deliver Hebron or anything else. The same thing may apply to Sharon's deputy Ehud Olmert.
bitterlemons: And on the Palestinian side?
Abdul Hadi: On the Palestinian side we are witnessing the election of the prisoners, appropriate to our culture of the prison. It's the insiders in a real sense, but not against the outsiders. These insiders are those who led the first and second intifadas, and who were too loyal too long to the historic leadership of the PLO. These prisoners have risen because of the exposure of the weak and fragmented old cardinals of Fateh after the death of Arafat, of whom these cardinals were the pupils and without whom they have no legitimacy.
Legitimacy now can only come through elections, and these people behind Israeli bars, who have been resisting and continue to resist Israeli policies and practices in their own way, are more popular. They are not corrupt, but they are also pragmatic. Marwan Barghouti, for instance, signed the Copenhagen document for a two-state solution. They are looking to create a better future but with limited experience of governing.
bitterlemons: Would you characterize this as a split in Fateh, and do you see it as a maturing of the Palestinian political scene?
Abdul Hadi: This all goes back to the last days of Arafat when he refused to call for elections in Fateh, complaining that the young guard, i.e., the Aqsa Brigades, had been infiltrated by the Qassam Brigades of Hamas and other third parties, and that as such they were not disciplined. In addition, Arafat's office used to say that it was too early for them to take leadership positions because they lacked experience and didn't have the trust of the president. In the post-Arafat era, Mahmoud Abbas has realized that he needs new faces. His agenda is three-pronged: reform, democracy and security, and he cannot deliver without change in the parliament and on the ground.
Thus he accepted primaries in Fateh, which everybody knew would favor the new generation. The primaries showed there was no confidence or trust in the cardinals of Fateh who have been meeting and talking but not delivering. The cardinals have lost their constituency, and they know it, as could be seen by the fact that most of the members of Fateh's Central Council did not seek legitimacy through the primaries, but were content with their historical legitimacy which is based on their role in the revolutionary movement from the 1970s. The young guard demanded legitimacy from today's society.
bitterlemons: So would you characterize this as a power struggle?
Abdul Hadi: It's a struggle for legitimacy. Where do we go from here? There is no revolution, there is no coalition with Arab states, there is no international pressure on Israel to help us. So how do we survive in the prison we are in? This parliamentary election is not for leadership, it is for representation; it is for mission not vision. As Marwan Barghouti has been saying, the vision will come after the election. After the legitimization of new representatives we will see new coalitions in the elected council.
bitterlemons: You are putting emphasis on the elections, but there seems to be some conjecture that elections may not take place at all...
Abdul Hadi: It is not in the interest of the Israelis to have Palestinian elections because they have concluded that Hamas will come to power.
bitterlemons: Without elections what are the consequences?
Abdul Hadi: This would totally cripple the PA. There is a crisis of funds in the PA to pay the salaries of 140,000 civil servants. If half a million Palestinians tomorrow have no income, there will be chaos. Elections will bring legitimacy to a new coalition government to implement Abu Mazen's strategy for reform, democracy and security and work with international donors and thus keep this body alive.
bitterlemons: Are you encouraged by what's happened in Fateh?
Abdul Hadi: I look forward with great hope and optimism to see how this election will legitimize a political agenda for political transformation in Palestine.- Published 19/12/2005 © bitterlemons.org
Mahdi Abdul Hadi is the head of the Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs (PASSIA) in Jerusalem.
To unsubscribe from this bitterlemons HTML email list, simply write to firstname.lastname@example.org with "unsubscribe" in the subject line. To subscribe to the text version instead, write to email@example.com. Editors Ghassan Khatib and Yossi Alpher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com, respectively.
Bitterlemons.org is an internet newsletter that presents Palestinian and Israeli viewpoints on prominent issues of concern. Each edition addresses a specific issue of controversy. Bitterlemons.org maintains complete organizational and institutional symmetry between its Palestinian and Israeli sides.