Israeli and Palestinian elections have never before been held at the same time. Currently, the simultaneous election campaigns on both sides of the green line are just getting underway. So there is little basis in terms of shared history or experience upon which to ground our thinking about ways in which the two elections might interact.
Yet interact they will. So the following is essentially an exercise in speculation, but potentially a productive one.
First, to the extent that Palestinian voters now perceive a shift to the left among the Israeli electorate--the appearance of the Kadima party, Amir Peretz's election as leader of Labor--it stands to reason that moderate Palestinians who themselves advocate a peace process might succeed in recruiting additional public support. Some of these Palestinians, from the younger generation of Fateh, also recently threatened that if the Fateh list ultimately submitted by the leadership to the voters does not sufficiently represent them, they will take a leaf from Ariel Sharon and form a separate Fateh list.
On the other hand, internal Israeli election considerations could conceivably influence the way the Sharon government, or what is left of it, deals with the modalities of the Gaza crossings and other sensitive issues in the time leading up to the Palestinian elections on January 25. Generous concessions and gestures by Israel could also encourage a dovish Palestinian vote, while a refusal to make concessions could have the opposite effect.
Here the interaction becomes two-directional, as we witnessed with the suicide bombing in Netanya on Dec. 5. Such acts of terrorism by Islamic Jihad, with its Syrian and Iranian backers, could be intended precisely to provoke the kind of angry response Israel declared, thereby escalating matters and driving voters on both sides toward more hawkish positions. Hamas has already indicated that it intends to abandon its ceasefire commitment at the end of December, thereby theoretically leaving it nearly a month to cause this sort of mayhem. Traditionally, Israeli voters have responded to violent acts of Palestinian terrorism carried out as election day approaches by becoming more hawkish; in recent decades, the balance between left and right has more than once been tipped this way.
An even more dramatic Palestinian electoral influence on Israel's elections could revolve around Hamas' performance on January 25. If Hamas scores what would appear to Israelis to be significant electoral gains, thereby presumably guaranteeing it a hawkish input into future PLO/PA policies, this will likely damage the election prospects of the Israeli Zionist left, Labor and Meretz, both of which advocate renewing peace negotiations. It could also influence the Kadima platform: PM Ariel Sharon currently denies any future intention to carry out a second unilateral disengagement, preferring to declare his loyalty to the roadmap and to subscribe to a generalized, roadmap-based two-state concept in the hope of appealing to voters from both the left and the right. But if, following the Palestinian elections, it becomes obvious to the Israeli public that the moderate Palestinian camp has suffered a setback and that Hamas, which opposes a two-state solution, will from herein exercise greater influence over Palestinian policymaking, then 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.
By the same token, if Fateh emerges from the Palestinian elections stronger, and Hamas weaker, Labor might benefit in the Israeli elections. One way or another the two elections, and the coalition-building on both sides that follows them, can be expected to interact in a number of influential ways. It may seem an unfair burden, but politicians on both sides must now take into account that their campaign statements and their ministerial decisions may affect more than one important election.- Published 5/12/2005 © 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
by Ghassan Khatib
It is election season in both Palestine and Israel, and this time change could be on the horizon. Hopefully, a new dynamic can be created as a result, because the last few years of stagnation on both sides have been of use to nobody.
Most in need of change is Israel. There, the transformation of the Labor party back into a real opposition party was the reason for the earlier-than-scheduled elections, and with the Likud party split there might just be serious competition that could lead to real change in the composition of the Israeli government. In light of the sitting government's record over the past four years and the negative effect it has had on the possibility of resuming peace negotiations, the importance of such a change can hardly be overstated.
This Likud-led government has pursued two strategies that have simply served to maintain confrontations and make remote any possibility of resuming negotiations. The first strategy is the use of massive force at any and all opportunity, taking full advantage of Israel's overwhelming military superiority. The second is the unilateral strategy, whereby Israel has been imposing its will on the ground in various guises, not limited to the disengagement from Gaza but including the building of the wall and the expansion of settlements in the West Bank.
In Palestine, elections might allow for a breakthrough in maintaining law and order and increasing the Palestinian Authority's ability to better ensure success in fulfilling obligations on the political and security levels. Including opposition groups within the political system should ensure that everybody respects the law of the majority and the rights of the minority. It should also increase the ability of the PA to prevent any attempts at breaking the ceasefire.
In fact the elections in Palestine, including as they do the Islamic opposition, should serve to strengthen not only the PA, but also the peace camp. This election is taking place within the framework of the Oslo agreement. The more inclusive such an election is, the more comprehensive the acceptance of the vision of Oslo. That was not the case in the only previous legislative elections, and must be counted as a step forward for the peace camp.
Thus, with the potential for real and progressive change on both sides, there is a chance for both a resumption of and a breakthrough in negotiations. But this will depend on the willingness of the international community to take up the gauntlet. The sides, as has been seen before, need the help of the international community, not only in coaxing them into negotiating, but, perhaps more importantly, to bridge the gap in confidence between them. In addition, and by the US in particular, serious pressure must be brought to bear on Israel to cease its settlement- and wall-building in the West Bank, as these constitute long-term and serious impediments to any chance of grasping the opportunity that imminent political change might bring.- Published 5/12/2005 © 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|
Elections in the shadow of terror
by Yisrael Harel
In Israel, elections were supposed to be held in November 2006. Due to political crises generated mainly by the summer 2005 disengagement from Gaza, Israelis will follow the pattern of most recent elections and go to the polls early, in March 2006.
In the Palestinian Authority, elections were to be held in July 2005. Because of internal crises they were postponed to January 2006. The delay signaled to the world, and certainly Israel, Palestinian weakness in advancing toward democracy. Indeed, the scenes witnessed frequently of late on TV screens around the world, of masked and armed men taking over polling stations in Fateh primaries or intimidating voters, raise many doubts concerning the elections themselves--and the eventual election results.
In any event, the proximity of the two elections has created a fascinating situation: the actors participating in elections, both in Israel and in the PA, must clarify for voters, virtually simultaneously, their attitude toward the sovereign national existence of the other. Who on the Palestinian side is participating in elections on a "ticket" that recognizes the existence of the state of Israel, wants to make peace and live side-by-side with it, and who, on the other hand, prefers to continue to terrorize it until it disappears? The same question applies to the Israeli side, with one difference: even those in Israel who oppose a Palestinian state do not support the disappearance of Palestinians from the region.
Here, then, lie the substantive differences: while in Israel there are today central actors who support a Palestinian state, among the Palestinians, a month or so before elections, there is no significant movement running on an unequivocal platform that proposes peace with Israel and recognition of the Zionist entity. While on the Israeli street there are today at least three parties, Labor, Meretz and Shinui, that declare in their electoral propaganda and write in their platforms that they favor the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel (conceivably, in view of PM Ariel Sharon's latest statements, his party too might include such a plank in its platform), there is no Palestinian party platform that makes a similar statement about Israel, and there may never be. Indeed, even those in the PA who ostensibly seek to be pragmatic and to recognize the irreversible fact that in view of Israel's military and economic resilience it should be acknowledged de facto, condition their recognition on complex demands that are unacceptable to Israelis, such as the right of return.
We can summarize matters as follows: on the eve of Palestinian elections even those Palestinians, if they exist, who are prepared to accept Israel's existence, downplay their views and avoid heralding them as one might expect them to in the election campaign. In Israel, on the other hand, the situation is reversed: those who support a Palestinian state not only do not downplay their position--they trumpet it. Since politicians do not emphasize issues the public opposes, especially on the eve of elections, we can draw two conclusions that are really one. On the one hand, the parties in Israel are certain that public opinion in Israel favors a Palestinian state, and therefore emphasize their support for such a state. In contrast, the forces in the PA--it's problematic to speak of actual parties--highlight their opposition to Israel since they are certain, and the figures support them, that their public opinion opposes Israel's existence.
Next March will witness general elections in Israel. Since Israel emerged as a sovereign state, most of its elections have turned on security issues. This, despite the heavy social issues--relations among diverse Jewish groups and between Jews and Arabs--that have cast their shadow over Israeli society for years. The surprising Labor party primary victory by Amir Peretz diverted the Israeli public and electoral debate for the first time since the Six-Day War away from the territories, terrorism and the separation fence, to Peretz's preferred platform of socio-economic issues. It is no secret that in Israel the gap between the poorest and the wealthiest is one of the highest in the world--higher even than in most of the western capitalist countries.
The terrorist attack in Netanya on December 5 abruptly refocused the attention of Israelis and the direction of the election campaign toward the issue of terrorism. Once again, Israelis are exposed to the murderous intentions of the terrorist organizations and the impotence of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), who ostensibly represents the Palestinian majority's opposition to terror. One of the consequences: yet again, Israel's socio-economic gaps will be pushed to the fringes of the electoral debate.
Only when the Palestinians allow Israelis to focus in their electoral campaigns on socio-economic problems or other domestic issues will this signal that conceivably--just conceivably--something substantial has changed on their side; that Palestinians have abandoned the option of terror and opted for peace. Until then, all the talk about peace is not even lip service.- Published 5/12/2005 © bitterlemons.org
Yisrael Harel heads the recently established Institute for Zionist Strategy and writes a weekly political column in Haaretz. He is former head of the Yesha Council (Council of Jewish Settlements in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza District) and former editor of its monthly Nekuda.
A PALESTINIAN VIEW
Setting the stage for a springtime intifada
by Ali Jarbawi
The Palestinian and Israeli political realities have been inextricably linked since the start of the occupation in 1967. Their amalgamation has been both mutual and escalatory to the extent that it is no longer possible to address one without taking into consideration the other. But there has never been a time when the intensity of this interrelatedness and its various ramifications has been more apparent then in the past few months. The postponement until January of Palestinian Legislative Council elections and the earlier-than-anticipated general Israeli elections this March has brought this intermingling between Palestinian and Israeli political lives to a peak.
The results of the Palestinian elections will lead to a core change in the nature of the Palestinian political system and the fashion in which it operates. These parliamentary elections, and not the presidential elections, are the key to the crucial democratic transformation this "patriarchal" system needs. The system's internal political legitimacy sprang from the authority of the late Yasser Arafat's charismatic leadership. This overwhelming individual control led to a complete absence of a separation of authorities, a continuous marginalization of the role of institutions and a limitation on their political effectiveness. It also led to a severe reduction of any political participation in the decision-making process. All authority lay with the president. All aspects of the Palestinian political process were concentrated in his hands, and he maneuvered it at whim. He was the Palestinian political system; no decision was made without his knowledge and nothing was carried out except on his orders. There were no constraints on the extent of his rule.
Hence, Israeli and international efforts were, up to the convening of the Camp David summit, focused on attempts to satisfy Arafat personally in order to reach a political settlement that would be desirable to Israel. When this summit failed, there was no longer a Palestinian political system to be dealt with for these players while Arafat remained on the scene.
The change began with the death of Arafat. But the election of Mahmoud Abbas, with his reserved personality and the different capabilities from Arafat that he brought, was not alone enough to create the democratic leap or the move toward a political settlement. Legislative elections were necessary to transfer the legitimacy from its individual-based foundations--revolutionary/historical/charismatic, all found in Arafat--to the legal-institutional level needed to empower Abbas.
However, when Abbas declared his intention to hold elections, two extremely important and unexpected things happened: the opposition factions, first and foremost Hamas, declared their intention to run; and the inevitable beginnings of change in the internal state of Fateh began to appear with a shift of parliamentary leadership to the younger generation.
These two surprises will result in a radical transformation of the political system, how it operates and its political approaches. The system will become more institutionalized and the president will no longer be its principal pivot. Rather, this pivot will shift to the Legislative Council, which will operate according to parliamentary foundations and contain a strong opposition.
This democratic transformation will result in more internal stability for the Palestinian political system but will also result in a council more stringent and scrutinizing over the negotiations process. As a result, no political settlement unjust to Palestinian rights will be signed.
On the Israeli side, meanwhile, the resignation of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon from the Likud party and the formation of his new party, Kadima, shook up the Israeli political system. Sharon's current popularity comes from a belief by many Israelis that he is the politician best capable of dealing with security and reaching a political settlement that will ensure maximum Israeli gains. The outcome of Palestinian elections will likely be considered by most Israelis as extreme and undesirable, especially with the inclusion of Hamas and the young Fateh generation in the PLC, and that fact, coupled with the personalities who abandoned their parties to join Kadima, such as Shimon Peres, will most likely lead to a Sharon victory. Such a victory will unshackle Sharon from right-wing extremists whose influence will be reduced in the new Israeli political system. It will also grant him an overall mandate to move forward to fulfill his and Peres' vision of a settlement with the Palestinians that will not anger the world, the United States in particular.
It should be noted, however, that this transformation in the Israeli political system is not based, as many think, on a shift by Sharon from the right to the center but rather on a shift of the center toward Sharon, whose place is still in the Israeli right-wing camp.
Sharon has already declared his acceptance of US President George Bush's vision of a settlement based on the principle of two states, thereby implying that he does not oppose the establishment of a Palestinian "state". However, ever since, he has been unilaterally designating the boundaries of this "state" on the ground according to Israeli conditions, which include the previous government's opposition to the internationally-supported roadmap.
What this means is that Sharon wants to give Palestinians a "leftover state"--a state without full independence or complete sovereignty and which is established on whatever land Israel cannot annex because of dense Palestinian population concentration. Annexing these areas would lead to an imbalance, from a Jewish-Israeli perspective, in the demographic reality and would eventually transform Israel into a bi-national state. This is why Sharon carried out his unilateral withdrawal from inside the Gaza Strip while continuing settlement construction in the West Bank, isolating Jerusalem from its surroundings, completing the separation wall and establishing cantons to squeeze the Palestinians into the smallest possible geographically scattered spots within the West Bank, while maintaining the Jordan Valley as an isolated security zone under Israeli control. These are the characteristics of the settlement Sharon wants to impose on the Palestinians and on the world by creating facts on the ground, and this settlement will constitute his political platform after the elections.
What then will be the political outcome of the elections? Will they be a glimmer of hope for a possible breakthrough? Or will they lead to another dead end for reaching an acceptable rather than imposed political settlement?
Rather than creating a hope for a breakthrough, the election results are going to collide. Sharon will continue to impose facts on the ground disregarding the Palestinian position. Likewise, Palestinian election results will lead to a reaffirmation of the Palestinian position rejecting a "leftover" state. Most likely, the elections on both sides will result in an increased possibility of confrontation: these elections will set the stage for a third, "springtime" intifada.- Published 5/12/2005 © bitterlemons.org
Ali Jarbawi is a professor of political science at Birzeit University.
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