Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Israeli Elections In the shadow of Hamas

From Jerusalem Post 21/3/06 By DAVID HOROVITZ ...

Twelve days to go, and the elections are looking increasingly like a referendum on the virtues of a second disengagement, among an electorate depressed by the ascent of Hamas and hardly overwhelmed by the Israeli leadership and policy options.

Labor holds out faint hopes of the possibility of negotiation via the office of Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas but, facing a Hamas-dominated Palestinian government, the principal choice for many Israeli voters appears to be between Kadima's now overt commitment to a second pullback in the West Bank, and the determination by the Likud and the National Union-NRP alliance to stay put.

If Camp David created an Israeli consensus that the Palestinian leadership was not seeking peace, the Hamas victory has dramatically widened the circle of Israelis who have concluded that the Palestinian public does not seek coexistence either. In such a climate, for all Labor's distinctive social welfare policies, its appeal is much circumscribed.

Given the high proportion of still-undecided voters, and the proclivity of Israeli opinion polls to underestimate the Right, the result may yet be closer than the surveys predict, although the windfall for Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of Tuesday's enforced capture of the killers of Rehavam Ze'evi in Jericho may solidify Kadima's support.

....As impatient politicians and analysts speculate on the nature of the coalition government ahead of us, it seems reasonable to believe that an overwhelming Kadima victory will set the stage for a second pullout - a genuine pullback, settlers and army, rather than the "civilians only" hybrid floated this week, whose main purpose seems devoted to maintaining unity within Kadima's own ranks. Such a withdrawal would doubtless be bitterly resisted by the settlers and their supporters, but such opposition would be deflated if it were unequivocally clear that such is the will of most Israeli voters. A narrower Kadima victory, however, would make any planned pullback far more complex politically, and more divisive in practice, since opponents - in the Knesset and on the ground - would contend that the government lacked the necessary consensual mandate.

As a gloomy Israel prepares to vote, and its government to grapple with the implications of Hamas taking formal office, the would-be enlightened international community is also still utterly at a loss as to how to come to terms with the dire new reality.

...the Americans, making a virtue of paralysis, are resolved to "wait and see" what exactly a Hamas government is going to exemplify before taking a precise position. They won't want to fund it, or even interact with its more unpalatable personalities, but neither do they want the West Bank and Gaza turning into humanitarian disaster areas. ...

...Formally, the US remains opposed to further Israeli unilateralism and, however irrelevantly, formally committed to the road map negotiated path to peace. But even those who still harbored faint hopes for eventual diplomatic progress have been thoroughly sobered by the Hamas landslide. And the notion of salvaging even a veneer of interaction via the offices of Abbas, not a particularly realistic prospect .....

....European Union representatives, meanwhile, are dutifully communicating the consensual message to Hamas that it must recognize Israel, commit to signed agreements with Israel and renounce terrorism. .... When Hamas leaders ask "or else what?" the Europeans threaten that failure to comply will trigger a far-reaching review of EU policy. Terrifying.

In fact, however, the EU may be alighting on a path to continued interaction with Hamas while formally sticking to the "we won't deal with the terrorists" line. At the end of this month, the EU's Euro-Mediterranean Parliamentary Assembly (EMPA) will hold its annual gathering of European and Mediterranean parliamentarians in Brussels. ...According to one extremely senior European source, invitations went out as usual to the PLC members, including those on the newly elected Hamas-affiliated Change and Reform List. This source said that, of course the EMPA grandees knew full well that this was the Hamas list, but it didn't actually say Hamas on the ballot, did it? ...."We're hoping none of them is a true member of Hamas," said a source close to the EMPA. "If they are, since Hamas is on the EU terror list, I don't know what we'll do. There'll be a big sigh of relief if they're not."

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