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The Morning After Sharon

Publié le, 25 janvier 2006 par

By SARAH Ozacky LAZAR, UNESCO Peace - Laureate


ISRAEL - The New Year started in Israel and in Palestine with expectations to the general elections in both sides, which were supposed to open a new stage in the dialogue between them towards political arrangements. No one expected a deep change – Mahmud Abbas was, and still is, the leading candidate to continue his role as the Palestinian Prime Minister, even though he is getting weaker every day, and Ariel Sharon was expected to lead the new party he had formed “Kadima” (Forward) to a sweeping victory and to form a more stable government for Israel in late March.

But Sharon sudden illness has changed the scene. The whole world is looking up to the 7th floor of Hadassa hospital in jerusalem, as if the Messiah himself is lying there in coma, planning his miraculous awake, that will bring peace. While I am writing these words Sharon is still in a critical condition. Even if he survives the stroke, it is obvious that he won’t return to his office.

So the Israeli politics are boiling, taking two parallel tracks – one is being politically and humanly correct, meaning: “we don’t do anything until he recovers… this is not the time to talk politics… we must be united… we all pray for his full recovery… his seat around the government table is waiting for him… etc.
The other track, at first behind the scene and now more and more open – is preparing for the elections – internal (inside the parties) and national (in 2 months time) and planning the morning after Sharon.

The new party Kadima, is surprisingly still leading in the polls. It seems like Sharon’s spirit is hovering over the public opinion and uniting his supporters around the ambiguous message of “Peace and Security”. This is what most Israelis are yearning for – peace and security, but no one, not even Sharon, has not provided the magic formula of how to achieve it.

The new leader, Ehud Ulmert, has taken office smoothly. Despite its many flaws, the Israeli democracy is stable enough and its judiciary system is strong enough to secure the right transfer of power in time of crisis. This was the case when Prime Minister Rabin was assassinated 10 years ago, and this is the case now.
Ulmert is a very experienced politician, not a former general nor a charismatic personality, but very shrewd and responsible and relatively moderate in his opinions and conduct.

He is “walking on eggs” now, avoiding any inappropriate steps or remarks, watching his way up to the top. Others in his party are waiting tensely to the final list of candidates for Parliament. Sharon had started this delicate job of maneuvering between the different candidates to form a list that would represent various sectors of the society, taking into account gender, ethnic affiliation and other consideration, but apparently had not shared his choices with his colleagues.

Other parties conduct “primaries” in which the candidates are elected, Kadima is too young for that. In fact on January 12, the Likkud, headed by Benjamin Nethaniahu, held internal elections and came out with a surprising list, pushing down former ministers and putting in the front new faces. Shinui, the central anti-religious party collapsed after its elections and 2 other right-wing parties are changing faces too.

So the coming elections in Israel cannot be predicted at all. Even though there are almost daily polls, 2 months in this country are a very long political time. Various factors determine the political behavior of the average Israeli voter – one of them is what is going on the other side of the lines – meaning in the Palestinian Authority. Past experience shows that when there is terror – the right wing is winning, when there are prospects of negotiations and talks – the center is strengthening. Right now the situation in Palestine is fragile and dangerous. The militant fundamentalist Hammas group is gaining power and threatens the PA, Abbas, as we said above, is weak and unable to deliver his own promises, other Fatah leaders who may be good partners for Israel are in Israeli jails and the chaos and despair in Gaza are growing every day.

All in all – the next 2-month won’t bring any dramatic developments. Until the elections Ulmert and his small government (Labor Likkud and had left it) would not dare initiate any new compromises towards the Palestinians, who in their turn won’t start any dialogue with an interim Israeli government. So we’ll have to wait till the beginning of April to see any new moves.

Two weeks after Sharon’s sudden unwilling retirement from the political scene – there are more questions than answers. No matter if he dies or remains partially alive – Israeli politics is moving a generation ahead and for the first time has no generals at the top of the 3 major parties.
Is this a good sign for future peaceful initiatives? It is too early to say.