Wednesday, November 23

What will happen if Sharon is re-elected?

It is never easy to speculate what will happen if Sharon is re-elected. It is a guessing game of “If…….what?” Nevertheless, one can only speculate based on the history of trends in elections in Israel. One thing is certain -much depends on the character of the coalition that he will form which will determine his future strategy assuming his party wins the election. No party will win an absolute majority and there will be much compromising because of post election negotiations.

It would not be surprising if the Labour Party under Amir Peretz becomes part of the Sharon coalition after the elections. Peretz has not ruled out that possibility. Peretz has had a problem being in the Likud coalition but now the situation has changed. The Likud is split and its chances of winning the elections poor.

It is doubtful whether there will be return of territory to the Palestinians as was the case of the disengagement from Gaza. This time much will depend on the ability of the Palestinian Authority to rein in terror. One must remember that the Palestinian elections are due in January 2006 and this in itself is a very important factor that will determine the future of negotiations with Israel under a new Sharon Government.

There may be some cosmetic disengagement in the West Bank with security arrangements. It will not satisfy the Palestinian leadership and there is a strong possibility of a continuing stalemate under the Sharon Government. The economic policies of Sharon will not differ much from the Likud. There may be some policy change towards the weaker sectors as part of a coalition agreement with the Labour Party. However, dramatic change in that area will not occur.

There are two basic issues facing the electorate today:

  1. There must be a return to negotiations with the Palestinians, which includes the establishment of a Palestinian state.

  2. Internal economic and social problems must take priority.

Positive movement towards the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel is important for Israel’s future. If there is no movement towards that end, it will not take long before the area becomes embroiled in violence. The Palestinian elections are also on the horizon and if extremists in the Palestinian camp are elected to the Palestinian legislature who is not pragmatic towards Israel, it will be very bad for both Israelis and Palestinians.

The latter issue is dependent on the former. If there is no peace, there will not be stability and slowing of economic growth. Both peoples will not be able to progress. Israel’s budget will be tuned toward military expenses and this will not serve anybody’s interests.

If Sharon’s new party list is elected, negotiations with the Palestinians will be postponed indefinitely, especially if the new Palestinian Authority does not do more to halt Palestinian terror. The signs that this will occur is far from hopeful. Even if the Palestinians do get their act right on terror, it is unlikely that Sharon will do anything that is imaginative or bold towards peace. The Gaza disengagement was a different kettle of fish. There were relatively few Israeli families living in the strip and they became a severe economic and security liability as a hostile Palestinian population surrounded them.

The policies of the Likud led coalition had resulted in economic strife for the poorer members of Israel’s population. Netanyahu who was finance minister under the Likud had targeted the poor rather than the wealthy. The improvement in Israel’s economic situation had largely been artificial because of his policies.

Ariel Sharon is still the same Ariel Sharon. He is pragmatic up to a point and he will not carry out anything drastic to improve the climate between Israel and the Palestinians nor can we expect anything revolutionary in improving the situation of the weaker sections of Israeli society. Amir Peretz’s commitments on both the basic issues mentioned seems to be more convincing. However, if the Labour Party wins the elections, he will also moderate his position when it comes to forming a ruling coalition and all that it entails.

Israel will be in a very similar situation after the elections as before no matter who wins.

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