Politics & Policy

Israel Concedes

The elections in Israel reveal the peace process as the fig leaf it always was. Roll up the legendary Road Map. Send home the famous Quartet. Since apparently nobody else can help, Israel is busy with its own peace process, consisting in drawing borders and taking its fate into its own hands. Palestinian leaders, whether Fatah or Hamas, are dedicated to violence and terror, and their people must pay the price for it; that is their tragedy. Ariel Sharon decided that separation is the only strategy available, and so he built the security fence dividing Israelis from Palestinians and he pulled settlements out of the Gaza Strip. The fact that this election validates his vision while he lies in a coma has its tragic element too.

Kadima, the party Sharon founded four short months ago, won with a much smaller share of the vote than polls had forecast. In order to form a government under the country’s Byzantine system of proportional representation, Ehud Olmert, Sharon’s successor, has to persuade at least three minority parties to join Kadima in coalition. It shouldn’t be too hard. Sharon dropped hints that the next step was to incorporate the main blocs of Israeli settlements on the West Bank, and dismantle the remainder, in effect creating national borders for Israelis and Palestinians. Olmert says explicitly that this is his program. Likud, the conservative party, argued against it on the grounds that it is unwise to pull out of the West Bank without receiving reciprocal concessions from the Palestinians. The collapse of the Likud vote shows that Israelis were not convinced that any such deal is possible, and in the absence of an alternative they are willing unilaterally to break the murderous stalemate between themselves and the Palestinians.

That means re-housing an estimated 70,000 West Bank settlers. Does Kadima, do the putative coalition parties, really have the stomach for what would be a sort of ethnic cleansing of one’s own kind? Ehud Olmert does not command trust as Sharon did. Ari Shavit, one of Israel’s most respected commentators, and a left-winger, is not alone in warning that Kadima’s program, if fulfilled, may not be the end of Zionism but it would be the beginning of the end. On the far side of the security fence Hamas is promising to return the whole of former Palestine–that means Israel–to Muslim hands, and over the horizon Iran is busy with its nuclear weaponry. Fortress Israel is taking shape, but life within it looks set to be as fraught as ever.


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