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PM Sharon: 'The Past Year Was Complex & Difficult; I Hope The Coming Year Will Be A Year Of Unifying The Ranks'

IDF Chief Of Staff Dan Halutz: 'The Palestinian Authority Clash With Hamas May Be The Beginning Of The Beginning'

Winner Of The Year - Ariel Sharon

Loser Of The Year - Binyamin Netanyahu

Photo of the Year - Gaza Withdrawal (Photo: Motti Sender)

The past Jewish year of 5765 has ended with the state of Israel and the Palestinians at a new juncture. Israel has withdrawn from the Gaza Strip and four West Bank settlements under the leadership of a national unity government while the Palestinians are now in the throes of an internal confrontation. David Essing sums up the outgoing year and looks ahead to the new Jewish year of 5766.

:: IsraCast Audio ::

‘I will meet with Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas) after the holiday’. Despite the Palestinian escalation that saw Hamas launching some forty Qassam rockets from Gaza after Israel’s recent withdrawal, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon says he will meet with the Palestinian leader after the Jewish New Year. Yediot Ahronot newspaper quotes Sharon after Abbas telephoned the PM to wish him a Happy New Year. Sharon responded by wishing Abbas a happy Ramadan Muslim holiday. The PM called it a pleasant conversation and this after weeks of a communications blackout between the two leaders.Sharon hoped the new Jewish year would see ‘gigantic progress’ in implementing the Roadmap that calls for a peaceful Palestinian state living alongside Israel.In the domestic arena, Sharon has come out of his Likud victory over former Finance Minister Binyamin Netanyahu by calling on Ehud Olmert, Netanyahu’s successor, to stress spending for the alleviation of poverty as well as crime prevention. The PM described the past year as complex and difficult and he hoped the New Year would be one of unifying the ranks after his controversial decision to withdraw from the Gaza Strip and four West Bank settlements.


Man of the Year

In the Israeli media, there is no dispute; Ariel Sharon is the man of the year and his Likud challenger Binyamin Netanyahu is branded loser of the year, and with good reason. Sharon startled the country by implementing his unilateral disengagement against the will of his own right wing Likud party. He then staved off the challenge of Netanyahu to oust him as Likud leader and prime minister. Sharon is now basking in both domestic and international praise as one of those rare leaders who is apparently changing the course of history. By implementing a limited tactical withdrawal Sharon is forcing the Palestinians to conduct a major strategic policy change in order to achieve their goal of a Palestinian state. This is now being played out as the new Jewish year is ushered in and is the backdrop to the bloody clash between the Palestinian security forces of Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. When Palestinian security forces stopped a car and tried to confiscate the weapons of Hamas terrorists it sparked fireworks. When it was over, three people were killed and some fifty other wounded including many children. It illustrates the peril in armed terrorists at large in the Palestinian areas. Sharon’s statecraft has left the Palestinians with two options: either seeking peaceful co-existence with Israel and getting a Palestinian state or preserving peaceful co-existence with Hamas and foregoing Palestine. But not only the Palestinians must come to terms with this new reality, the Israeli public is also beginning to fathom Sharon’s grand strategy.

It’s still early days and an open question whether Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas will have the resolve to persist in taking on the terrorists and enforcing his ‘one gun, one authority’ credo. The Bush administration, the international community and even Egypt are pressing the Palestinians to forego the terrorism and acknowledging Israel’s right to self-defense. Israel is reaping the political dividends of the disengagement. (Listen to U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice)

Quo Vadis Abbas? The IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz has called the clash between Palestinian security forces and Hamas, ‘possibly the beginning of the beginning’. When asked what Israel’s reaction would be if the terrorists again go on the rampage, Gen. Halutz replied: ‘I believe it will be overall and more severe’. The IDF hit back hard after the Qassam rocketing by renewing targeted killing of terrorist leaders, shelling and rounding up several hundred Hamas members on the West Bank.If Abbas gets serious about dismantling the terrorists, Sharon is ready to start out on the Roadmap. The Prime Minister believes he can count on the written commitment from U.S. President George Bush of April 14th 2004 about Palestinian refuges not returning to Israel and preserving Israeli settlement blocs on the West Bank.

Outlook: Although, senior Sharon aides and the IDF intelligence chief Gen. Aharon Zeevi-Farkash have raised the possibility of more unilateral Israeli disengagements if the Roadmap turns out to be a dead-end, Sharon denies it. Indeed, it is highly unlikely that the Israeli leader will kill the Roadmap as long as Bush says it is alive. Sharon has come to realize that American co-ordination and support in the international arena is a vital component of Israel’s national security. (Listen to IsraCast interview with analyst Dr. Dan Schueftan on September 19th).

Sharon enters the New Year riding a wave of popularity in his own Likud party and with the public at large. By opting for a new state budget that shows ‘compassion’ for the poor, this popularity is likely to grow. Look for the new Finance Minister Ehud Olmert to insert more than a billion shekels for the poor next year. This will keep left-wing Labor in the cabinet and there is now talk about the ultra-orthodox Shas party joining the coalition in the new year. If so, Sharon’s Grand Strategy could pace the way for a Grand Coalition enabling the Prime Minister to sail through the new year to the next election scheduled in November 2006.

Loser of the year - Binyamin Netanyahu:

Loser of the Year

The former Finance Minister is credited for saving the Israeli economy from going into a tailspin. But by waiting until the very last minute before resigning to lead the anti-withdrawal campaign, Netanyahu displayed bad judgment and terrible timing. Netanyahu failed to realize that even diehard Likud central committee members would not risk a party split and losing the next election in order to punish Sharon for the withdrawal. (Albeit many polls indicated that Netanyahu would trounce Sharon again verifying the Shimon Peres crack about: ‘Polls are like perfume; good for smelling not for drinking.’Even though the former Finance Minister resigned from the cabinet to challenge Sharon, if he had quit the race at the convention ‘for the good of the party and to avoid the breakup of the Likud’, Netanyahu would have been hailed as a hero. Netanyahu would have been crowned as Sharon’s successor. Not to say this will not happen or that Netanyahu might even defeat Sharon in the April primary,

As for the Israeli public, it is fair to say a majority of Israelis are entering the Jewish New Year with more hope than anytime since the outbreak of the Al Aqsa intifada five years ago. If the Palestinians are ready to disarm the terrorists, both sides can meet at the conference table to resolve the conflict that has caused so much pain and suffering by both Israelis and Palestinians.

Shana Tova,

David Essing

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