Although the results of the Israeli elections reflected a slight change away from the rightwing policies of Ariel Sharon, they also showed continued confusion, indecisiveness and hesitation on the part of the Israeli public.
Kadima is a mixture of ex-Labor and ex-Likud members and the election night statement of its leader Ehud Olmert indicated that it is still unclear whether it will continue to pursue the unilateral policies of Sharon or will give a chance to negotiations with the legitimate leadership of the Palestinian people led by Mahmoud Abbas.
It’s also not clear yet whether this newly elected Israeli leadership will continue the policies, practices and position that contributed to the Hamas victory in Palestinian elections, or will follow policies that might empower the peace camp led by Abbas.
One of the most interesting aspects of the elections is the significant progress the Labor party achieved and the dramatic decline in the number of seats for the Likud party. These two features would seem to show that the Israeli public comprises a significant portion of voters who seem convinced that the previous strategy, the unilateralism and the unbridled use of force of Sharon have not been successful. That strategy clearly neither moved forward the peace process nor empowered those on both sides who are interested in peace.
Two options confront the newly elected leadership in Israel in terms of relations with the Palestinians. It can focus only on the presence of Hamas and use it to further escape its obligations to respect international legitimacy along with those obligations included in the roadmap, such as stopping the expansion of settlements, ending restrictions on the movement of Palestinians and resuming negotiations.
Or it can acknowledge the presence of the elected Palestinian president–who is the ideal partner for a resumption of negotiations–and recognize that resuming the peace process together with alleviating economic suffering will contribute to shifting the balance of power back in favor of the peace camp in Palestine.
Recent statements from Washington, however, that seem to be giving a green light to an Israeli unilateral strategy in the next phase, including from officials such as Condoleezza Rice and influential experts like Martin Indyk, are undermining the position and efforts of Abbas. Consequently, Palestinians are left to draw the conclusion that Hamas and its government are the only choice. After all, if the elected authority that is legally empowered to conduct negotiations, i.e., the president, is being ignored by Israel with the backing of the US, what is the alternative?
After the formation of an Israeli government, the international community, through the Quartet and hopefully with an active US role, must come up with a political initiative–and the necessary political will to see it through–that will re-empower the peace camp in Palestine so it can present a viable, peaceful alternative to the Palestinian people and lead us out of [this] the miserable situation we are all in and toward ending the occupation and independence.
In the meantime, and in any event, the international community cannot shirk its duties or responsibilities toward the Palestinian people. It must continue humanitarian and development work with and on behalf of the Palestinian people and Authority, because punishing the people as a result of their electoral choices by making them ever poorer will simply serve to increase sympathy for Hamas and drive home Hamas’ message.