Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Israeli Election

A couple of months ago, I wrote a post Interpreting the Hamas victory and where from here? in which I predicted that there were rocky times ahead in the short term, but looked with optimism towards a possible future in which Israelis and Palestinians might be able to resolve their long term differences. The upshot of the post was that Hamas, despite their commitment to violence, once they have to begin dealing with the day to day details of governing, would little by little have to moderate their stance. And most importantly, if that day ever comes, they (unlike the notoriously corrupt and ineffective leadership of Fatah) would have the authority with the Palestinian people to make any renunciation of violence stick. And it is true that Hamas, while not renouncing violence has made their own truce with Israel stick (though there are other militant groups they have not restrained, such as the Islamic Jihad militants who yesterday fired a Katyusha rocket into Israel from the Gaza strip.)

As for the short term concern of rockier times, I wrote,

The dilemma is obvious. Israel cannot sit down at the peace table with people whose only peace objective is to destroy them. And in the short term, it seems likely that the Israeli electorate is most likely to elect a candidate to lead that country who is a hawk as well (this outcome bodes well for Netanyahu in particular), fearing that Hamas in actual control of the Palestinian Authority will be a deadly threat.

I am glad I was wrong about that. Yesterday, the Israelis took a step towards peace. In what was in many ways as big a surprise as the Hamas victory, the Israelis picked the Kadima Party, founded by Ariel Sharon prior to his stroke and now headed by Ehud Olmert, to form a new government. With 28 seats in the 120 seat Knesset, they will need to form coalitions with other parties to govern, and the most likely coalition partner they will choose is the Labor Party, which won 20 seats, to form a center-left coalition. And most importantly, Israelis rejected the hard line warmongering of Netanyahu, as the Likud party won a paltry eleven seats, coming perilously close to minor party status. In fact, a wide range of minor parties, favoring everything from stricter religious laws to legalizing marijuana, won the rest of the seats (and these are domestic social priorities-- with big things like war and peace on the table, if they have to pass a law letting people smoke a joint, except on the Sabbath, in order to make it work, then they can do this.)

To date, Hamas has not shown any inclination at all to renounce violence. And Kadima's official stance is just as hardline, saying that if they can't reach an agreement with Palestinians by 2010, they will decide for themselves Israel's permanent boundaries and unilaterally impose them.

Nevertheless, if we get past the rhetoric and the blustering, I see a real spark here for a movement towards peace.


Beth said...

Canada has suspended assistance to the Palestinian Authority because the new Hamas government refuses to recognize Israel.

Karen said...

"I see a real spark here for a movement towards peace".

Sounds encouraging but knowing what happened to Yitzhak Rabin...

Eli Blake said...


And they will be joined by others. Hamas may not be quick to change, but sooner or later (and this was the point of my post a couple of months ago) they will be forced to change. The minutia of governmental management can do that to people. Even if they don't want to recognize Israel, they will have to deal (indirectly perhaps) with Israel in everything from border crossings to water rights. If a factory in Israel is producing pollutants that are making people in a Palestinian village ill, are they going to refuse to discuss it with at least a representative of the Israelis because they don't recognize Israel? There are mundane matters, such as the details of writing civil law, and collecting taxes, and building budgets. All of this can be a sponge that can soak up the energies and drain the enthusiasm of even the most committed of reformers.

Give them a few months or even a couple of years at actually running the government, my guess is then they will do what is necessary to talk. And even the Israelis realize it won't happen overnight. That is why Olmert named the year 2010 as the year in which Israel will impose a unilateral solution if no agreement is reached before then. He knows it will take a year or two of doing the mundane business of government to moderate Hamas, but I believe that he also is confident that it will.