Israel's May 1999 Elections and the Prospects for Peace in the Middle East


Current Issues Brief No. 15 1998-99

Michael Ong
Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Group
8 June 1999

Contents

Major Issues Summary

Introduction

Background

Election Campaign and Issues

Prime Ministerial Campaign

Knesset Campaign

The Results

Reactions to Barak's Victory

Challenges for new Prime Minister

Future of the Peace Process

Conclusion

Endnotes

Major Issues Summary

The 1999 Israeli elections saw Ehud Barak elected Prime Minister with, by Israeli standards, a wide margin. Unlike the 1996 elections, security and the peace process, while important, were not the main issues, which had more to do with incumbent Prime Minister Netanyahu's character and style of leadership.

The results of the Knesset elections, with 15 parties gaining representation, reflect an increasingly divided country. However, the ideological divide between Labor and Likud, which had dominated Israeli politics since the 1950s seems to have declined. Most Israelis have increasingly accepted the de facto existence of a Palestinian state. Mr Barak, in seeking to be the 'Prime Minister for all', hopes to form the widest possible coalition to unite the country.

Barak's election gives renewed hope that the Middle East Peace Process, which had been stalled, will be restarted. He has indicated that he will try to reach settlement on all major issues within a year and promised that, once agreements have been reached, a referendum will be held.

Western governments, Palestinian Chairman Arafat and Arab countries, excepting those opposed to the Oslo Agreement, have welcomed Mr Barak's victory. They are aware that he is a tough negotiator and will not, in his desire to seek peace, compromise Israel's security.

Introduction

On 17 May, Israel went to the polls to elect a Prime Minister and a 120-member Knesset (Parliament). The elections determined who will make the tough decisions on the peace process with the Palestinians and Israel's Arab neighbours. This brief provides the background to the elections and the campaign and analyses the implication of the results for the peace process in the Middle East. (1)

Background

In 1996, Binyamin (Bibi) Netanyahu, representing the Israeli right led by Likud, defeated Shimon Peres of the Labor Party, with 50.4 per cent of the votes. The main issue was implementing the 1993 Oslo Peace Agreement (which provides for a six-year plan, ending May 1999, for Palestinian self-rule). Netanyahu opposed the Agreement, which he saw as establishing a Palestinian state. His coalition government of eight parties included ideological, religious and immigrant-based parties, had contradictory and irreconcilable objectives. Juggling these and dealing with internal crises as well as external pressures on progress in the peace process was to test his political skills.

After 1996, Netanyahu's 'crash or crash through' style of government was peppered with issues affecting Israel's relations with the Palestinians and the stability of his coalition government. To strengthen his right-wing support, in August 1996 he ended the four-year freeze on new Jewish settlements in the Palestinian occupied territories, imposed by the previous Labor Government (thereby creating more 'facts on the ground' and making it more difficult for future governments to negotiate with the Palestinians). Other actions which adversely affected Israeli-Palestinian relations included the opening of a tunnel near a Muslim holy site (in September 1996), delaying implementation of the historic 1993 Oslo Agreement and approving a new Jewish settlement in disputed East Jerusalem (in March 1998). There were also personal scandals and major internal disagreements over withdrawal from 80 per cent of Hebron (which he had promised not to do in 1996) and internal control given to the Palestinian Authority (PA),(2) in January 1997. His critics saw the Hebron withdrawal as de facto acceptance of a Palestinian State. These decisions resulted in allegations of lies and broken promises by key cabinet ministers.

In October 1998 Netanyahu, under the auspices of the United States, Israel's major ally, signed the Wye River Memorandum, which included a commitment to give up a further 13 per cent of West Bank land to the PA before January 1999. This caused further internal disagreements resulting in the Council of Jewish Communities in Judea, Samaria and Gaza declaring that as a result of his 'pathetic capitulation', he was no longer their leader.(3) Delays in implementation also strained relations with the United States.

The above issues caused major defections of key Cabinet members to other parties and the formation of new parties:

  • Benny Begin (former Minister of Science, son of a former Prime Minister and an advocate of a 'Greater Israel' who opposes giving up biblical lands to the Palestinians) resigned in protest after the Hebron withdrawal. He subsequently formed his own National Union Party and stood as a Prime Ministerial candidate.
  • The Center Party was formed by Yitzhak Mordechai, Dan Meridor and Ammon Lipkin-Shahak (his former Defence and Finance Ministers and the former Israeli Defence Forces Chief of General Staff respectively) with the specific aim of 'Dump Netanyahu' as its mission. With defections from other parties, including Labor, and eminent individuals, the Center Party sought to offer voters a middle ground between the ideological Labor and Likud.
  • David Levy, a former Foreign Minister, left to join the Labor Party.
  • Avigdor Lieberman, a former right-hand man of Netanyahu, left to form his own Yisrael Beiteinu (Russian Jewish immigrant) party.

As observed by The Economist, 'Few heads of government are so vigorously and openly disliked and despised by so many of their closest colleagues'.(4)

Arieh Deri, former Interior Minister and leader of Shas (an ultra-Orthodox Sephardic party supported by the Sephardim, Jews from the Middle East) was, pending appeal, convicted and sentenced to four years in jail (in April) for fraud, corruption and bribe taking. He claimed that he was framed by the 'elites' (i.e. the Ashkenazim, Jews from Europe who dominate many of Israel's institutions, including the judiciary). The Shas has also been embroiled in a bitter struggle with another coalition partner, the Yisrael Ba'aliya Party which has sought to wrest the Interior Ministry, with its generous budget, from the Shas.

In December 1998, Prime Minister Netanyahu, having contributed to the destruction of his right-wing coalition, and faced with a no-confidence motion (later withdrawn) made a last minute, desperate call on the Labor Party to form a government of national unity. The call, to save his 30 month-old government, fell on deaf ears. Netanyahu's final threat to the Knesset was either to accept the conditions, which included withdrawing 13 per cent of the West Bank, for resuming the peace process or go to an election. Despite intense politicking, the Knesset decided to pass a bill for new elections, 17 months before they were due. As a consequence, implementation of the Wye River Memorandum was suspended.

Election Campaign and Issues

The election involved contests for the Prime Minister's position (chosen by a separate direct vote) and for the 120-member Knesset, selected by proportional representation. For the first, voters had to consider national interests as their votes give a mandate for the winning candidate to deal with, among others, the continuing issues of the peace process. In a separate vote for the Knesset, voters were able to follow their own instincts based on religion, ideology and personal affiliations. In both campaigns observers have noted a curious level of non-engagement over policy issues such as the peace process and the economy.(5)

Given the close margin of victory in the 1996 elections, the number of new voters and their views were important in the Prime Ministerial contest. Of the 4.2 million (46 per cent born overseas) about 382 000 were new voters. This is an increase of 9.3 per cent since 1996. Half of the new voters are Soviet Jews with the others comprising those coming of voting age and thus of unknown political dispositions.

Prime Ministerial Campaign

There were initially five candidates for the Prime Minister's position. In addition to Netanyahu and Barak, there was Yitzhak Mordechai (Center Party)(6), Benny Begin (National Union Party) and Dr Azmi Bishara, leader of the new Balad (National Alliance Party). Bishara has been seeking a better deal for the disadvantaged Israeli-Arabs, who form 20 per cent of the population.

Under the Electoral Law, if no candidate wins an outright majority, the two highest vote winners face a run-off (which was to be held on 1 June). The prevailing wisdom is that it is more difficult to motivate voter turnout in the second round and candidates should therefore seek to achieve a majority in the first. In the final week of the campaign and with poor showing in the opinion polls, the last three candidates withdrew. Mordechai (who had been physically attacked by Likud supporters during the campaign) in withdrawing, urged his supporters to vote for Barak. Begin refused to endorse either of the remaining candidates. Given Netanyahu's attitude to the peace process, it was assumed that Bishara's Israeli-Arab voters would favour Barak.

Netanyahu, despite the weakening of his right wing support, was initially confident that his charm, charisma and television presence, which Barak lacks, he would win in the end. He fought a campaign almost exclusively on peace and security issues, as the strong leader who is prepared to defend Israel's interests against Chairman Yasser Arafat of the Palestinian Authority and other Arabs.(7) His election stickers read 'Only Netanyahu: A Strong Leader for a Strong Nation'. This strategy was almost a repeat of the last elections. Netanyahu's decision, during the campaign, to close Orient House, the political headquarters of the Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem (the close was delayed by a court injunction) was seen as provocative.(8) Arafat's decision (under intense pressure from the United States, the European Union and some Arab countries) not to declare an independent State of Palestine on the 'sacred date' of May 4 (the expiry date of the Oslo Agreement) was seized on by Netanyahu as a victory. Netanyahu had threatened 'severe measures' implying that he would annex the West Bank if a declaration were made.(9)

The Palestinians, who had been given written assurance of external support for their cause, were unwilling to be pawns in the election campaign and thereby helped to undermine Netanyahu's strategy. (In early May, President Clinton wrote to Arafat urging him not to make a declaration of independence and offering support for the Palestinian 'right to live free in their homeland'. Likewise, the European Union's quid pro quo was that it gave Israel a year to fulfil the Palestinian 'unqualified right' to independence.(10)) This lack of direct action is in contrast to 1996 when several bomb attacks, which caused many civilian casualties, were carried out by extremist elements during the election campaign, helping the Likud campaign.

By signing the Wye River Memorandum, and agreeing to withdraw from more occupied territories, Netanyahu had also weakened his case against a future Palestinian state. Moreover, faced with Barak, a former Head of the Israeli Defence Forces, Israel's most decorated soldier (five medals for bravery) and Netanyahu's former commander in the elite unit Sayeret Matkal, Netanyahu's claim, also made against Peres in 1996, that Barak was soft on the Palestinians was less than convincing.(11) It was also significant that the 1999 Likud election platform did not include any commitment to keep all of the Golan Heights (occupied Syrian territory) under Israeli sovereignty. This was a key issue in 1996 and won the votes of Jewish settlers in the occupied territories for Netanyahu (see below).

Unlike 1996, security, while remaining important to voters and external observers, was no longer the compelling ideological issue dividing the electorate. There has been a growing consensus within Israel that whoever became Prime Minister would have to reach some form of agreement with the Palestinians if peace is to be achieved.(12) Israeli attitudes towards the PA have also been changing. According to a survey in March 1999, 61.5 per cent of Israelis see the PA as either a 'very genuine' or 'genuine' peace partner. This is an increase from 52.3 per cent in a similar survey in 1997.(13)

Towards the end of the campaign, and with polls indicating declining support, Netanyahu, in response to a derogatory remark ('riff-raff') by a left-wing politician against the Sephardim, attacked the left, claiming that they 'hate the people. They hate the Sephardim, the Ethiopians...the Russians...everybody'. Barak distanced himself from the 'riff-raff' remark and accused Netanyahu of trying to drag the country into a 'civil war'(14) On election eve Netanyahu accused Barak of making deals with Bishara and urged Mordechai's supporters to 'come home'.(15) He also pleaded with the electorate not to 'repeat the mistake of 1992' (i.e. voting Labor which negotiated the Oslo Agreement) saying that the 'left' would 'establish an Arab state in the heart of the country, on the outskirts of Tel Aviv that will put our very existence at risk'.(16)

Barak (who had taken over the leadership of the Labor Party from Shimon Peres and reincarnated it, with two smaller parties, Gesher and Meimad, as One Israel), focussed his campaign as a referendum on Netanyahu's style of leadership and (lack of) character and trustworthiness. He also highlighted the failure of Netanyahu to reduce the 8 per cent unemployment rate and concentrated on domestic issues such as education and health care. Barak's campaign stickers read 'Israel Wants Change' and 'There is Hope With Barak'. His election eve speech dwelt on his vision of national unity and urged all supporters, including Likud, to realise his dream and help repair the damage of Netanyahu's 'divisive and inciting campaign'.

Both Barak and Netanyahu also sought to woo the support of the Russian Jews whom, since the collapse of the Soviet Union, have been the largest migrant group, comprising 14 per cent of the electorate, and thus a critical bloc of voters. As noted above, half the new voters were Russian Jews. The Yisrael Ba'aliya Party, led by Natan Sharansky (Minister of Industry and Trade) had been part of Netanyahu's coalition but remained neutral on the Prime Ministerial race. However, the party faced a bitter struggle with a new rival, Yisrael Beiteinu (Israel Our Home). This party led by Avigdor Lieberman, formerly Netanyahu's right-hand man, has no love for Sharansky. Lieberman has called Israel a 'police state' and accused police, prosecutors and the courts of endemic corruption and racism.(17) The party shares some of Shas' views of the Ashkenizm 'elites' and opposes withdrawal from southern Lebanon and the freezing of settlements.

Knesset Campaign

Under the proportional voting system, the 33 contesting parties/blocs needed to win at least 1.5 per cent (about 55 000 votes) to win a seat in the Knesset. The major and new parties were:

  • One Israel: Left of center, supported by the Ashkenazim (European Jews)
  • Likud: Right wing supported by the Sephardim (Middle Eastern and non-European Jews)
  • Shas: Serphardic Ultra-Orthodox religious party
  • Meretz Democratic Israel: Left wing, support includes workers, the peace and civil rights activists and advocates religious freedom.
  • Yisrael Ba'aliya: Center party formed by former Soviet immigrants
  • Center Party: New party, non-ideological
  • National Union: New breakaway party from Likud, extreme right wing and opposed to giving up any land of 'Greater Israel'
  • Shinui: New party, formed by defector from Meretz, secular and strongly anti-Orthodox
  • Yisrael Beiteinu: New Soviet immigrant party formed by defectors from Yisrael Ba'aliya. Hawkish on the peace process and anti-Ashkenazim
  • Balad (National Democratic Alliance): New Israeli-Arab party

In addition to minor religious parties there were a number of single-issue parties including Men's Family Rights, Power for Pensioners and the Casino Party.

In the absence of debate on substantive issues, the campaign for the Knesset, as revealed in speeches and advertisements, were seen by local journalists as motivated by hate, 'where everybody hates everybody else: Ashkenzim-Sepharim, religious-secular, Right-Left, Russians-Moroccans'(18). It was the most fractious in recent history as Israelis reverted to tribal loyalties based on religious, ideological and racial affinities. A survey in March 1999 found that 62 per cent believe the secular-religious divide was the country's most serious problem compared to 18 per cent on the ideological (Labor-Likud) division over the peace process.(19)

These differences relate to the domestic debate of whether Israel is a Jewish, secular, or democratic State and the nature of 'Jewishess' of its Jewish citizens. The haredim, ultra-orthodox, constituting 50 per cent of the voters in Jerusalem itself and commanding crucial support in Netanyahu's coalition, fears that demands by the left and the secular, in seeking to water down the answer to the question 'Who is a Jew?', based on a tolerant and liberal democratic society, would eventually result in a gentile people who happen to speak Hebrew.(20)

Many secular Jews resent the influence, arrogance and power of the haredim whose political activities and religious practices affect their daily lives. The secular Jews support the anti-haredim Shinui, led by controversial and provocative TV talk host Tommy Lapid. Lapid had launched a strident campaign against the haredim who in turn has called him a fascist, and an anti-Semite. Lapid has reported death threats against himself.

The Results

Barak won the Prime Ministerial ballot with 56 per cent of the vote thus avoiding a further divisive campaign for a run-off election. Compared to 1996, this was a landslide margin and has been seen by local observers as a 'political earthquake'. The results show that the electorate appeared to tilt towards the left as a consequence of the implosion of the right-wing bloc.

In contrast to the outright win by Barak in the Prime Ministerial contest, the Knesset result was more varied. The new Knesset, with fifteen parties, four more than its predecessor, is even more divided. The major winner, in terms of seats, was Shas, increasing their seats from 10 to 17. The party claimed that the election was a referendum on its leader's trial (see p.2). However others saw the Shas as instrumental in destroying the right by giving rise to the secular Shinui and that Shas' feud with Yisrael Ba'aliya (see p.4) had driven Russian Jews to support Barak.(21) One Israel with 26, lost 8 seats, Labor's lowest. Likud won 19, losing 13 seats, which also equalled its lowest total. Two small parties, The Third Way and Tsomet (The Movement for Renewed Zionism) did not win any seats. The Third Way was the party of the Golan settlers and in 1996 won 4 seats on the slogan 'The Nation is with the Golan'. The new anti-haredim Shinui won 6. The leader of National Union Benny Begin, which won only 3 seats, has since left politics as a matter of principle.

The new Knesset has also established a number of records. It has, with 14, the highest number (including an Arab) of women, recent immigrants (Russian) 11 and 12 Israeli-Arabs. There are now three parties representing Israeli-Arabs, up from two.

1999 Elections Results (Winning Parties Only)

Party

% Votes

No. of Seats

One Israel (formerly Labor)

20.2

26 (34#)

Likud

14.1

19 (32@)

Shas

13.0

17 (10)

Meretz-Democratic Israel

7.6

10 (9)

Yisrael Ba'aliyah

5.1

6 (7)

Shinui

5.0

6

The Center Party

5.0

6

National Religious Party

4.2

5 (9)

United Torah Judaism

3.7

5 (4)

United Arab List

3.4

5 (4)

National Union

3.0

4 (*)

Democratic Front for Peace and Equality (Hadash)

3.0

3 (5)

Yisrael Beiteinu (Israel Our Home)

2.6

4

National Democratic Alliance (Balad)

1.9

2

One Nation for Israeli Workers and Pensioners

1.9

2

Numbers in ( ) refers to seats held in the old Knesset.

# Excluding Gesher and Meimad; @ including Gesher and Tsomet; * Part of Likud

Reactions to Barak's Victory

Western media and governments have generally welcomed Barak's victory with the expectation that renewed efforts will be made to move the peace process forward.

Reactions from the Palestinians and Arab countries have been more subdued and varied.(22) Arafat, in congratulating Barak, expressed hope that he will advance the peace process and other Palestinian leaders expressed hope for a 'new era' in their relationship with Israel. A Hamas spokesman, Jordan Ghawshah, said that Barak and Netanyahu are 'two sides of the same coin'. Jordan interpreted the election result as 'a chance to renew Israel's commitment to the peace' and hoped that Barak would give priority to the resumption of the peace process on all tracks.

Egypt's Foreign Minister said Barak has a mandate to reactivate the peace process and Egypt is prepared to co-operate. The Lebanese Prime Minister Dr Salim al-Huss argued that there was no difference between the two candidates and noted that all the Israeli wars against the Arabs occurred when the Labor Party was in power. Mufti Shaykh Abd al-Amir Qabalan, Deputy Chairman of the Higher Islamic Shi'i Council (whose Iranian supported party Hizbollah is fighting against Israel in southern Lebanon) warned against Israeli traps and urged Arabs not to accept Barak's statements. Likewise, Iranian radio rejects the 'excessive optimism' for the peace process as a result of the elections. A Syrian newspaper, Tishrin, urged Barak to adopt a 'radical' change of policy with a view to withdraw fully from the Golan Heights and Lebanon (see below).

Challenges for new Prime Minister

The first challenge for Barak is to form a stable coalition government and, as he said in his victory speech, unite the country by ending the internal divisions. By law he has 45 days (i.e. until the second week in July) to achieve this, even though the new Knesset meets on June 7. While he could govern with the left and centre parties, Barak has stated that he wants to form the widest possible coalition, and according a party spokesman, of some 90-95 seats to ensure that the defection of any single party will not bring down his new government. One Israel has begun the difficult process of negotiating with almost all the winning parties. During the campaign Barak also promised that any permanent deal with the Palestinians would be put before the country at a referendum. For this to be approved, he will need the widest base of support in the Knesset.

Some of the future partners in his coalition have already declared that they would not join if another particular party forms part of the government. Shas, whose leader Deri has resigned,(23) would not sit with Shinui nor with Yisrael Ba'aliya. Meretz has also objected to Shas.(24) There were also calls by Barak's supporters, during his victory celebration in Rabin Square, not to include Shas.(25) Ba'aliya's leader Sharansky claims that his party is the 'real center' and 'has the important task of ensuring there will be a national unity government'.(26) It has been reported that the party, with some dissension, does not want Shas, Shinui and Yisrael Beiteinu because of their potential divisiveness in the future coalition.(27) Likud, with Netanyahu resigning from the Knesset, and now led by hardliner Ariel Sharon, has also been invited to the talks.(28)

Future of the Peace Process

In his victory speech on 18 May, Barak drew 'four red security lines' in relations to the peace process with the Palestinians. These are:

a united Jerusalem under our sovereignty as the capital of Israel for eternity, period; under no conditions will we return to the 1967 borders; no foreign army west of the Jordan River; most of the settlers in Judea and Samaria (i.e. occupied territories) will be in settlement blocs under our sovereignty and, any permanent arrangement will be put to a national referendum for the people to decide.(29)

One of his close advisers and peace negotiator, Yossi Beilin, had indicated that the new government would try to complete the whole peace process, including the final status talks with the Palestinians, within a year. (The United States, before the elections, had apparently proposed to Arafat the extension of autonomy for a year until May 2000, which will also be the deadline for a final accord.(30))

It is significant that since the elections, the powerful American Israel Public Affairs Committee, in reversing a long-standing policy, announced that it no longer opposes a Palestinian state, though it did not fully commit itself directly to one.(31) On the final status of the Palestinian State, the Committee favours Israeli negotiations and not a unilateral declaration by the Palestinains. This Committee has been instrumental in shaping and influencing the views and perceptions of Americans, be they President, Congress or the public, on issues affecting Israel. In the past, differences of opinion have allowed the Committee to pit Congress against the President's policy on Israel in particular and the Middle East in general.

Since the elections, there has been a flurry of activities by some of the key players in the peace process. The Palestinians fear that Barak's promise to withdraw from southern Lebanon 'within a year' may be seeking to deal with that issue at the expense of the Palestinians. Arafat has proposed a five-way Arab summit and Egypt has invited Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and the Palestinians to a summit to determine a unified position for peace talks with the new government. Syria, which opposed the Oslo Agreement, has yet to respond. Jordan's King Abdullah has visited Arafat in Gaza and Lebanon emphasising that the core issue is an independent Palestinian state. US President Clinton phoned Syria's President Assad, on 28 May, promising that he will make a personal effort to revive Syrian-Israeli peace talks. Syria has indicated that it will be prepared to continue from where negotiations broke down three years ago (see p.10).

Barak's decisions on more immediate Israeli-Palestinain issues will determine the atmosphere of the renewed peace talks. These issues include the freezing of settlements(32), stopping actions in Jerusalem such as the closure of Orient House, the demolition of an estimated 2000 listed houses and confiscation of identity cards. Others will also include implementation of the Wye River Memorandum and the launching of permanent status talks on Jerusalem, borders, refugees and other outstanding issues.(33) He has said that he will not make any decisions on these until he has finalised his new coalition.

Conclusion

According to Professor Asher Arian of Haifa University, in a comment before the elections, 'The 1999 election is a fight for the voters in the middle, who don't want war but don't want too much peace, who don't want religion but don't want too much secularism'.(34) The diversity of parties represented in the Knesset bears out this view. The challenge for Barak is to mould this diversity into a team that will not see politics as a 'zero-sum' game. His hobby of taking apart watches and putting them together again will be tested. His military background and acknowledged intelligence in dealing with issues has assured the majority of Israelis who voted for him that he will not put the nation's security at risk. He has said that 'the time for peace has come, not peace through weakness, but peace through might and a sense of security; not peace at the expense of security but peace that will bring security'.

The election of Barak and the results in the Knesset augur well for the peace process. The pace, which has almost ceased to exist, will be accelerated but there will still be tough negotiations. His task is aided by the growing internal consensus that a Palestinian state is inevitable and by a perceived decline in the influence of its strongest opponents. The future negotiations will also require diplomacy, an area in which Barak has limited experience. An indication of this skill will be in the formation of his government.

The key to Middle East regional peace is Syria, which has demanded the unconditional return of the Golan Heights. Syria also hosts radical Palestinian groups and is opposed to Arafat, since it sees Palestine, 'southern Syria', as part of 'Greater Syria' (which includes Lebanon, Palestine and Israel).(35) In terms of the future of Syria-Israeli peace talks, the loss of all seats by The Third Way indicates that Israel is psychologically prepared to return the Golan. Since Syria has always stated that it will not accept any deal without full Israeli withdrawal from the Golan, the withdrawal of an estimated 15,000 settlers, while painful, will have to be part of a peace deal. This has its precedent when, as part of a peace deal, Israel dismantled settlements before the Sinai peninsula was handed back to Egypt in 1982. With an estimated 35 000 troops in Lebanon, Syria's influence in that country is not insignificant and could help in finding a way for Israel to withdraw from its self-imposed security zone in southern Lebanon. Syria has expressed a willingness to resume talks. Since the elections, it has been reported that Netanyahu had continued to conduct secret talks, through go-betweens (from Oman and the European Union), with the Syrians.(36)

The issue of peace negotiations with the Palestinian Authority, if it is to deal with final status talks simultaneously, is much more complex and is bedevilled with strongly held emotions by both sides on Jerusalem. Despite 'red security lines' and ambit claims, it is not impossible to see a future Palestinian State arising through a transition, which has, despite delays, already begun. The nascent, but fragmented, Palestinian State will continue for some time until both sides are confident of the other's good intentions. Likewise, it is not unlikely that a similar solution could be found for Jerusalem with, perhaps areas within it such as Orient House, designated 'Palestine'.(37) Though Edward Said, a US based Palestinian academic and advocate of Palestinian independence, has criticised the Palestinian controlled areas as a 'Swiss Cheese' state, the fact remains that after more than fifty years of conflict; the Palestinians have now a place they can start to call 'home'. It has been noted above that there have been changes on both sides. Palestinians, in recent years, appear to have become more concerned with economic rather than political issues. A survey by Professor Bernard Sabila of Bethehem University had revealed that while 90 per cent of Palestinians support a unilateral declaration of independence and 84 per cent wished for the 'liberation of all Palestine', 78 per cent also wants closer economic ties with Israel, and 65 per cent recognises the right of Israel to exist. Of interest is that 66 per cent of those surveyed, are also against a return to violent struggle. (38)For the Palestinians the slow process of what Hannan Ashrawi calls 'exchanging the mentality of revolution for the mentality of civil society'(39) has also begun. Significantly, this is despite the continuing problems of maladministration, human rights abuses and perceived corruption within the PA leadership.(40)

While the final outcome of the peace process will have to be determined by the key players in the region, it is important that countries like the United States continue to provide crucial support and encouragement to all participants. The aim should continue to be to ensure that the results will be seen, and accepted, as a 'win-win' for all, by the biggest majority possible.

Prime Minister Barak, has acknowledged that he 'will be facing some of the most difficult and fateful decisions in the history of the State of Israel'. His test will be to convince his fellow citizens that after tough negotiations, Israel is strong enough to finally take the risks for peace that his mentor Yitzhak Rabin initiated with the Oslo agreement.

Endnotes

  1. For a brief overview of the process see Michael Ong, 'Middle East Peace Process: Background and Issues', Research Note, No 37, Department of the Parliamentary Library, 1996-97.

  2. Note that the Palestinians referred to this as the Palestinian National Authority and refers to Arafat as President, while to the Israelis, he is Chairman Arafat.

  3. Jerusalem Post, 26 October 1998. (Note all citation is from the Internet edition)

  4. The Economist, 15 May 1999.

  5. ibid.

  6. Mordechai is a Kurdish Jew and his appeal is to the large number of Sephardim, Jews of Middle East origins, a key component of Netanyahu's support in 1996.

  7. David Makovsky, Israeli Elections Mark End of Ideological Struggle, Middle East Insight, Vol. XIV, No.3, May-June 1999, p. 7

  8. Jerusalem is also claimed by the Palestinians as the capital of its future state.

  9. Guardian Weekly, 9 May 1999.

  10. Guardian Weekly, 4 April 1999.

  11. Likud slogans claiming that Barak will cede parts of Jerusalem were 'Barak will relinquish' and 'Barak will buckle under'.

  12. The Economist, 15 May 1999 and David Makovsky, op.cit.

  13. Jerusalem Post, 17 March 1999.

  14. Canberra Times, 8 May 1999.

  15. With these two in the race, it was acknowledged that Barak would not win outright in the first round of the elections.

  16. Jerusalem Post, 17 May 1999.

  17. Jerusalem Post, 9 May 1999.

  18. Herb Keinon, The Hate Motif, The Jerusalem Post, 6 May 1999.

  19. A Nation Divided, BBC News (Internet), 6 May 1999.

  20. For a fuller discussion of some of these issues see Hugo Young, Peace Postponed, Guardian Weekly, 16 May 1999.

  21. Herb Keinon, Those unsinkable Shasniks: Anatomy of a triumph, Jerusalem Post, 20 May 1999.

  22. This material draws heavily on the BBC, Summary of World Broadcasts Middle East 3538-9, 19 and 20 May 1999.

  23. Barak has said he would not negotiate with Shas if Deri remains its leader.

  24. Meretz also wants commencement of the Syrian and Lebanese peace talks, freezing of all Jewish settlement activities in the occupied territories and a constitution to include the right of freedom of religion and from religious coercion.

  25. Barak has demanded that Deri may neither lead the party de jure nor de facto; relinquish demand for the Interior Ministry; show respect for the law by the party and full transparency and accountability in the running of Shas institutions. Jerusalem Post, 25 May 1999.

  26. Jerusalem Post, 17 May 1999. The party also wants the Interior Ministry.

  27. Jerusalem Post, 20 and 30 May 1999.

  28. Sharon has publicly stated to European diplomats, that Israel's military triumphs have rendered Jerusalem's status as a 'separate entity' in UN Resolutions 'null and void'. Jerusalem Post, 17 March 1999.

  29. BBC News, 18 May 1999.

  30. This was originally reported in the Hebrew daily Ma'ariv and quoted by Guardian Weekly, 4 April 1999.

  31. Jerusalem Post, 25 May 1999.

  32. The UN General Assembly has voted 115-2 calling for an international conference to enforce a ban on settlement activities in the occupied territories, which according to the Resolution, violates the Fourth Geneva Convention. Courier Mail, 11 February 1999. It is estimated that there are about 180 settlements with two dozen by-pass highways linking them. There are also about 200,000 settlers in Gaza and the West Bank (excluding those in the disputed Jerusalem area).

  33. Ben Lynfied, What's in Palestinian hearts and minds, Jerusalem Post, 13 May 1999 quoting several PA leaders.

  34. Jerusalem Post, 9 May 1999.

  35. See Barry Rubin, The Geopolitics of Middle East Conflict and Crisis, Middle East Review of International Affairs, Vol 2. No 3, September, 1998.

  36. Jerusalem Post, 30 May 1999.

  37. According to Henry Kissinger, apart from further deferment, 'The only available choice seems to be to incorporate an adjoining suburb into Jerusalem and make it the seat of the Palestinian government (together with a special status for the Arab and Christian holy places)'. Winning the Peace in Palestine, Sydney Morning Herald, 4 February 1999.

  38. Quoted by Hillel Halkin, The State of the Palestinians, The New Republic, 17 May 1999, pp. 27-33.

  39. Quoted in Halkin, op. cit., p. 28.

  40. For a cross section of the views of Palestinians towards the PA see Halkin and Young, op. cit.

 

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