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How To Build an Israeli Opposition (Author's title: Beyond Failures of Right & Left)


Posted by Ralph Seliger

Palestinian terrorism has always strengthened the political right in Israel. No Labor or Meretz prime minister would stay in power if he or she presided over the security emergency that has escalated under Ariel Sharon....Yet Sharon is evidently to be coronated again in the January 28 general election.

How To Build an Israeli Opposition
Palestinian terrorism has always strengthened the political right in Israel. No Labor or Meretz prime minister would stay in power if he or she presided over the security emergency that has escalated under Ariel Sharon. As bad as things were in the closing months of Ehud Barak's term, they've become 10 times worse in the number of Israeli casualties. Yet Sharon is evidently to be coronated again in the January 28 general election.

Those of us who would hope for a change of leadership in Israel have to begin by underscoring Sharon's failure to deliver on his promise of peace and security. If you encounter the response that the left has also failed to deliver peace and security, your honest reaction must be to concur — both sides have failed. This is mostly because of a third side: the Palestinian leadership that has undermined a negotiating process that would have left them with a state in all of Gaza, 90-97% of the West Bank and a part of Jerusalem.

Granted, Barak wasn't a saint in his negotiations at Camp David and Taba. Barak was trying to drive a hard bargain, but he was awkward in his dealings with Yasser Arafat. He was even awkward in his dealings with his colleagues in Labor and Meretz. For example, Barak was barely on speaking terms with Meretz leader Yossi Sarid. He did not take advice from Sarid or anyone else during most of his time in office.

Barak stumbled badly in allowing Sharon to provocatively parade on the Temple Mount, but it appears that Arafat was looking for an excuse to start violence, or at least was not inclined to quickly stop the violence. And it appears that Israeli police and soldiers were trigger-happy or not well supervised. But we should not be fooled by the misdeeds and bad decisions of Barak and other Israelis. The Palestinians should have been able to negotiate a reasonable deal during Barak's tenure. President Clinton was a sympathetic, fair-minded and engaged mediator. More than anything else, this second intifada — as opposed to the first one from 1987 to 1991— was a totally counterproductive tragedy for the Palestinians.

There have been inklings during the last year that many Palestinians are beginning to understand this. For those of us engaged in dialogue with Palestinians or Arabs here in the United States, I urge that you diplomatically but firmly point this out. If not for Arafat's failure to stem the violence, Sharon would not be prime minister right now. In fact, there's plenty of evidence that Arafat and his people fanned the flames, and are directly involved in funding and encouraging acts of terrorism. Arms and explosives being imported from Iran by sea on the Karine A and by other means are not a figment of Israel's imagination. Equally real are payment orders, countersigned by Arafat, to fund the use of explosives in suicide attacks.

Sharon's shortcomings and malicious acts cannot excuse the primacy of the bad faith of Arafat and his apparatus. If you don't get this across to those with whom you are in dialogue, your dialogue is worthless.

We should also be willing to engage in dialogue with Jews who are not supporters of the peace camp. And the only way that we can have any hope of a fair hearing from our fellow Jews is to acknowledge that Arafat is the greater villain than Sharon.

You'd be surprised that most Jews who are sympathetic to Sharon's hard line actually disagree with him over the need to retain settlements in Gaza. Many of these people also think that Sharon's repeated obsession with besieging Arafat's headquarters was a mistake.

The proposal by Amram Mitzna, the Labor Party's candidate for prime minister, to abandon most settlements regardless of the outcome of negotiations with the Palestinians underscores the need for Israel to get out of the territories. There will be a political and security disaster in 10 or 20 years — when Palestinians will comprise the majority from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea — if they mostly remain under Israeli rule.

Given the unlikelihood of a victory by Mitzna on January 28, we come to our last hope for relief — an active involvement and intervention by the international community, under the determined leadership of the United States. If Sharon and Arafat keep blundering and blustering at each other in their bloody and destructive ways— not to mention if Foreign Minister Benjamin Netanyahu relieves Sharon at a certain point and Hamas or the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade terrorists succeed Arafat — the need for outside help will become increasingly clear.

Ralph Seliger is secretary of the board of Meretz USA and co-editor of its publication, "Israel Horizons."


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