By Ratna Pelle
As the final results
of the Israeli elections point out, there is a -small- majority for a center-left coalition, and thus for more withdrawals from the West Bank. Although Olmert (29 seats) said he is also open to negotiations with the right, it seems unlikely that he will form a coalition with the very parties that did everything to prevent the disengagement from the Gaza strip. The very formation of Kadima was caused by the stiff resistance to the Gaza pullout, let alone more disengagements from the West Bank. Maybe I am too optimistic, however: Peretz (20 seats) has to show some flexibility for sure, and at least two other parties are needed for a majority: the Pensioners Party (7 seats) and Meretz (5 seats) would make 61 seats, or one or two ultra orthodox parties (Shas (12) and United Torah Judaism(6)), possibly with the Pensioners Party. However the orthodox parties are not likely to agree to further withdrawals from the West Bank without a major change on the Palestinian side.
The election results show that a stable coalition in favor of further withdrawals will be difficult, and a stable coalition will be difficult anyway. There is only one rather big party, but it has only gained about 22% of the votes. Although the Labor party presents itself as being victorious, it only gained 15% of the votes. All other parties gained less than 10% of the votes. The political landscape looks very fragmentary. A lot of people voted according to their religious affiliation or ethnic origin.
The results possibly also show that many Israelis are a bit clueless about what should be done in the future. The low voters turn out (63%) could well have been caused by this: no-one has convinced the electorate that his solution is the best. Also, Israelis miss their strong leader Sharon. Kadima of course positioned itself as the party that will carry on the legacy of Sharon, and complete what he started. In fact, however, no-one knows what he really wanted to do and what his 'legacy' is. Would he be willing to withdraw behind the fence and give up all settlements on the other side? Or would he be willing to do so only after the Palestinians renounce terror and recognize Israel as a Jewish state?
The election results also show a growing concern about social economic issues. Many poor people, especially Sephardic and Russian immigrants, living in 'development towns', used to vote for Likud (12 seats), but were probably too disappointed by the harsh economic policy of the previous years. One fifth of the population lives below the poverty line, and there are some 250 soup-kitchens. Hence the votes for Gil (the Pensioner's Party). People who worked all their lives and paid taxes should not be forced to go to a soup-kitchen to fill their stomach.
It is remarkable that the Hamas victory didn't boost the right in Israel. Ysrael Beiteinu (11 seats), a far-right party that supports 'transfer' of Israeli Arabs, won some votes, but nevertheless got only 5% of the votes. Looking at the whole picture, the right didn't win. What does this all mean for the future?
Israelis and Palestinians have voted. The Israeli vote is ambiguous on the Palestinian issue, but an improvement to the previous Knesset, as Kadima as a new party won the elections with a platform calling for more withdrawals from the West Bank, on cost of especially the Likud.
On first sight, the Palestinians voted against peace and compromise. But Palestinians also voted for the moderate Abbas as president last year, and the majority for Hamas was partly caused by the Palestinian election system, that favored regional candidates and punished Fatah for having several competing candidates in the same towns, and the wide spread corruption within Fatah. Yet the Hamas victory should not be played down. Hamas is a radical organization, that carried out hundreds of suicide attacks within Israel and calls for continuing the Jihad or, in more acceptable words, 'armed resistance' against Israel. Its victory would be comparable to Ysrael Beiteinu having 30-40% of the votes in Israel. That would not be a mandate for peace, even if the votes where in part caused by frustration about Likud's harsh economic policy or its corruption scandals. So the Palestinian vote is ambiguous at best, and bad for peace in practice.
There are roughly three possibilities now:
* Direct peace negotiations between both parties. Abbas wants this and Kadima said it would be willing to do so if the Hamas recognizes Israel and denounces violence, which Hamas stated clearly several times it would not do. A center-left government might be willing to talk to Abbas, but Abbas is even weaker now than he was before the Hamas victory, and cannot make any agreements without approval of the Hamas government.
* Unilateral withdrawals from parts of the West Bank, from a few small settlements or all the territory east of the fence or anything in between. This is a likely scenario, especially with a center-left government, but without any agreement with the Palestinians the scope will probably be limited. 'Defining our own borders' sounds attractive, but without any international recognition these borders are no real borders, and without any peace agreement they will not provide real security. Israel will probably evacuate some isolated settlements but not withdraw the army, and possibly continue building in the large settlement blocs.
* No further withdrawals, and further settlement expansion. This might bring Israel in trouble not only with the UN and EU, but also the USA. On the other hand, since Hamas has come to power the pressure on Israel to withdraw and make concessions will surely not be stronger than it has been in previous years. Several countries already decided to cut contacts with the Hamas-led government, so how can they demand Israel negotiates with them? However, as Kadima came to power on a platform of further withdrawals, it is likely they will dismantle at least a few settlements.
More on these scenarios in the next blog
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