I returned a few days ago from Israel, and it became very clear to me that both Israeli and Palestinian politics are on the verge of major tectonic shifts.
If Ariel Sharon’s reported stroke is serious, then these next few months in the Israel-Palestinian arena are going to be more fragile than they would already be.
The Palestinian Fatah party is divided between the corrupt and incompetent on one hand and some who are both visionary and competent. A new more centrist, anti-corrupton party called Hurriyah may be born after the January 25th elections. And of course, Hamas is poised to get a major foothold in the Palestinian government.
On the Israeli side, Ariel Sharon tilted towards the center, crippling the right wing Likud party and building a catch-all party in the semi-center, called Kadima. Both Labor and Likud figures have joined Sharon, including the former Likud Defense Minister as well as Labor’s former chief, Shimon Peres. The new Labor Party leader, Amir Peretz, has a genuine battle ahead with Sharon in racing to get enough seats in the March 28th election to form the government. Most analysts have been giving the tilt in the race to Sharon’s Kadima, and Likud has no chance to beat either Labor or Kadima.
Beneath this political turmoil, most Knesset observers feel that Sharon is attempting to impose a final border solution with the Palestinians that is unilaterally imposed. The other side of this debate is a competing effort to get to final status negotiations on a Palestinian state with a border deal that is bilaterally agreed to.
The fact that there will be two major elections in the Palestinian Territory and Israel over the next 14 weeks poses the possibility of either a real break-through in achieving a ‘deal’ between Palestinians and Israelis — or alternatively, a worsening of circumstances if Hamas scores big in the polls, and Sharon’s Palestinian-cripping unilateralism is rewarded in Israel’s elections. Hamas and Sharon, in many ways, reinforce each other — often crushing more moderate voices between them that believe that a negotiated solution is not only possible, but achievable in the near term.
TWN knows nothing more about Sharon’s state of health. But there can’t be much doubt that this stroke will shake the Israeli-Palestinian world pretty hard.
It’s too early to tell whether Sharon’s health weakness presents an opportunity to break out of the trap of unilateralism now — or whether this could intensify and worsen the already stessed Palestinian-Israeli situation.
— Steve Clemons