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HISTORIC JUNCTURE A View Of the New Crossroads From Jerusalem

Palestinians:

‘Arafat Could Have Made Peace With Israel, But Refused New Palestinian Leadership May Want To Make Peace, But Can They?’

Israel: ‘Ruling Likud Party Being Torn Between Ideology And Pragmatic politics- Sharon Again Creating New Political Facts’

Pres. Bush ‘Will Offer New Palestinian Leaders Another Chance For State- But On Condition Of No More Terrorism’

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has now entered a new historic juncture. Three roads now intersect; optimists hope it will lead from the current battleground to a new and different landscape; the pessimists feel it will be more of the same.

Abu Ala - Abu Mazen

The ‘Palestinian Street’ is in a state of shock. How else could it be after Yasser Arafat, the leader who has dominated that street, for more than four decades, is gone. Arafat ‘was-is’ the symbol for the Palestinian dream of returning to Israel, that is why he never really wanted to make peace with Israel. How will the Palestinians, some of whom still hold keys to their old homes inside Israel, now react to the disappearance of that dream. There may be a new pragmatic, Palestinian leadership of the Old Guard about to take over control. IDF intelligence and the Shabak Security service say, that in private people, like Abu Mazen and Abu Ala opposed Arafat’s policy of terrorism - they contended that after 9/11 it has hurt the Palestinian cause. But how does a new pragmatic leadership alter and shift the Palestinian mind-set about returning to Haifa, Ramle, Lod, etc.? And will such a leadership have the security forces on the ground to confront the terrorists and make it stick. Or has Arafat let ‘the genie out of the bottle’ for good and will the warlords in Gaza, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the other local gangs prevail?As for Yasser Arafat, one of the best assessments of the Palestinian leader came from the late Palestinian Prof. Edward Said who said: ‘What the Palestinians really needed was a Nelson Mandela’.

Pres. Bush - P.M. Sharon (Photo: Amit Shabi)

Pres. George W. Bush: Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his colleagues breathed a sigh of relief with the re-election of Bush. How could it be otherwise? Sharon and Bush saw eye to eye on most issues, primarily ‘clobber terrorists don’t coddle them’. The U.S., with Bush in the White House could be Israel’s sole defense against U.N. sanctions over the security fence or anything else the pro Arab automatic majority would wish to table in the world body. But on the flip side, Bush backs an independent Palestinian state living peacefully alongside Israel. He promised it to Arafat on condition the Palestinians halt the terrorism. The re-elected President can be expected to push the same deal again after Arafat’s departure perhaps with a new twist in light of the immense pressures inside the U.S. and abroad. British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s plea is likely to fall on receptive ears in the new administration. There is no question that if a new moderate Palestinian leadership takes control it will need a strong’ support system’ from outside if it is to succeed in changing from violence and terror to compromise and negotiation. In this conflict it takes ‘more than two to tango’; Israel and the Palestinians cannot do it on their own. If the new Palestinian leaders are to tell the refugees that Palestine is not in Israel but in Gaza and the West Bank, they will have to offer them a lot. But not only the U.S., perhaps Tony Blair and other European leaders, maybe even Egypt, could pitch in with financial aide to a new and responsible Palestinian administration. If the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the key to Middle East stability, a miniature ‘Marshall Plan’ could be the answer.

‘May God Bless His Soul’ - In any case, the reaction by President Bush to the ‘exaggerated’ report of Arafat’s death was a reaching out to the Palestinian people.

Jerusalem: Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has issued a ‘gag order’ on his cabinet ministers - not a word about Yasser Arafat and his successors. The idea is to curtail any charges that Israel is meddling in Palestinian affairs at this critical juncture. Any official Israeli remarks about this or that Palestinian leader would tarnish him in Palestinian eyes. Moreover, Arab media mills are now peddling the idea that Israel deliberately poisoned Arafat over a period of years. The key question is obviously whether moderate Palestinian leaders will emerge to take control, or will the current uncertainty deteriorate into warlord anarchy similar to the violence in Iraq. Look for Sharon to follow the cue of the new Palestinian leadership. If they back up peace talk with reining in the terrorists, Sharon can be expected to reciprocate. The obvious arena would be a Palestinian role in Israel’s unilateral evacuation of Gaza, which the Prime Minister says will take place on schedule next year. But will this new leadership of Abu Mazen and Abu Ala be able to muster the necessary security forces on the ground? If there is internecine fighting in Gaza it could make it more difficult for Israel to carry out the withdrawal. The present IDF intelligence assessment does not foresee a Palestinian civil war. Whatever happens, it appears likely the prevailing situation will not continue; Sharon’s disengagement is based on ending the bloody war of attrition imposed on Israel these last four years by Yasser Arafat. In lieu of no partner and unable to stamp out the Palestinian guerrilla warfare, Sharon decided to hunker down and keep up a relentless counter-terror campaign from outside of Gaza.

By so doing, the Prime Minister is trying to preempt external ‘peace plans’ which could surface, faster than anyone thinks. But if Sharon thinks that by giving up the four settlements in Samaria, he has made a ‘down payment’ for American support in consolidating the rest of Israeli settlement in the West Bank, he is likely to be sorely mistaken. After the election campaign, Bush will likely offer the Palestinians the Gaza evacuation as an inducement to further Israeli withdrawals in Judea and Samaria. But again, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is only part of the bigger regional picture: most pundits say if the Palestinians do not stop the terrorism it will be very hard for Bush to lean on Sharon, while American forces are blasting away in Iraq. On the other hand, the U.S. could press harder on removing the unauthorized outposts that seem so hard to budge.

On the domestic scene, Sharon won a comfortable majority in the Knesset this week on his evacuation -compensation bill for the relocated settlers. The ‘Bulldozer’ is gain creating facts on the ground, this time going in the opposite direction. His own ruling Likud party, threatened with a split, is balking. The Likud is torn between its traditional ideology to keep all of the land of Israel and the political and demographic reality. It’s not totally new; it began with some of the ‘princes’ Dan Meridor and Roni Milo who pointed to the writing on the wall years ago about the need to get out of Gaza. Then came Ehud Olmert and finally astonishingly, Ariel Sharon in a position of power to make it happen.

But if tens of thousands of Israeli citizens believe the Prime Minister ‘has stolen our votes!’, is this not a grave problem for Israeli democracy? Much of the media and academia tend to gloss over this burning question with Political Science 100 theory.Question - If Sharon during the election campaign declared ‘No negotiating under fire’ how could right wingers have envisaged that such a hard-liner would agree to withdraw, or retreat, under Palestinian fire?However, does the issue stop there? Hebrew university Professor Yehezkel Dror wrote a book called ‘The Crazy States’, he related to countries like Libya Iraq and other Middle East regimes.

Maybe the time has come to include Israel in the category when it comes to the country’s political system and decision making. Middle east expert Oded Yinon contends that Israel lives under crazy conditions and threats. There is ample experience that proves that when party leaders become Prime Minister they often ditch their campaign and party lines and take surprising decisions from their new vantage point.For example: - Menachem Begin returned Sinai to Egypt - Moshe Dayan - ‘Sharm El Sheik is more important than peace’- Binyamin Netanyahu evacuated part of Hebron- And let’s not forget Yitzhak Rabin and Ehud Barak on the Golan Heights

Speaking of Barak, he drew bolts of lightening and peals of thunder from his former Labor party rivals, when he announced his comeback this week. Barak was hauled over the coals from acting party leader Shimon Peres and would be candidates, Matan Vilnayie, Ephraim Sneh, Haim Ramon. They all railed that Barak ruined the party once and he’ll do it again. However, a recent opinion poll showed that Barak is still very popular among Laborites and secondly none of the current would-be party leaders appears to reach the threshold of being able to win an election and lead the country. There is then a leadership vacuum which rank and file Laborites are not happy about. Barak does not talk about taking on Sharon; like Likud rival Bibi Netanyahu, Barak probably realizes Sharon is too popular. Instead Barak advises that Labor provide the Prime Minister ‘a bridge of iron’ to help Sharon implement the disengagement. Why then has Barak now thrown his hat into the Labor Party ring? Most likely to position himself for a future election campaign when the Likud candidate would be… Binyamin Netanyahu.

David Essing

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