Israeli Elections: A Test for Democracy

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Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon seems to have more faith in Palestinian democracy than he does in Israeli democracy.

Repeatedly, Sharon expresses confidence that the Palestinian people will change their elected leadership as a result of the drastic conditions in the Palestinian territories.

However, he willfully ignores domestic accountability for the security, economic, and social breakdown in Israeli society as a result of his dangerous and irresponsible policies.

Nevertheless, he is equally contemptuous of the intelligence of both constituencies as he blindly blames the Palestinian side (namely President Arafat) for the total breakdown in relations and the deterioration of conditions on both sides without any critical assessment of his primary role in this tragedy.

While the Palestinian public is fully aware of the lethal role of the Likud-led government in the ongoing crisis, Sharon assumes that he can continue to pull the wool over the eyes of the Israeli public by finding a convenient scapegoat on the other side.

Such an assumption of ignorance and naiveté adds insult to injury to the Israeli electorate, but, more seriously, betrays a serious disconnect with reality and hence a total lack of means for rectification.

The results of yesterday’s primaries in the Labor party indicate that there is a sizable segment among Labor voters that is exhibiting the will to break away from the Sharon legacy and all the death and destruction that it has brought down upon Israeli society (not to speak of the victimization of the Palestinian people as a whole).

While Palestinians shy away from commenting on Israeli elections as a purely “domestic issue,” it is clear that the impact of their results will be felt on both sides of the divide.

The majority vote for Amram Mitzna in the Labor primaries clearly demonstrates a decisive breaking away from the policies of Sharon and a search for a clear alternative untainted by any previous association with the extremist and disastrous Sharon government.

Perhaps now Labor will be able to overcome its image of fragmentation and loss of direction by providing the Israeli public with a clear and decisive policy for peace and economic revival.

What Mitzna has working for him is the assurance of a partner on the Palestinian side-a partner that Sharon had desperately tried to negate and destroy. The Palestinian Authority will certainly be sending positive signals and will begin preparations for the resumption of serious negotiations.

Additionally, Mitzna will not have to reinvent the wheel, as he can build upon the legacy of previous negotiations culminating in Taba, thus leading to speedy and tangible results.

Domestically, the disastrous consequences of Sharon’s policies of military escalation, brutality, and political bankruptcy are beginning to be felt as the reason for Israel’s loss of economic and personal security.

The enormous power and destructive capacity of the settlers and their hijacking of the political, economic, legal, and moral agenda of Israel are becoming more apparent to the Israeli public as a whole. Their attempts to further destroy any chances of peace, including the self-destruct mechanism of obliterating the necessary divide for affecting the two-state solution, are also evident (as demonstrated by repeated public opinion polls).

Significantly, the Israeli “peace camp” is also in urgent need for decisive leadership that can pull together its various components with an unequivocal and daring message and courageous leadership capable of extricating it from the quagmire of mutual recrimination and the Barak-Sharon legacy of external blame and internal weariness.

Mitzna’s message will undoubtedly resonate (and there are indications that it has already done so) among the Palestinians who have felt the absence of a message and strategy for peace in Israel, particularly through an insane escalation of military and settler violence, as well as a dangerous policy of total negation of rights, identity, humanity, and security.

The question remains as to how (and whether) it will resonate among the Israeli public–whether the electorate in Israel continues to support (and generate) extremism under the misguided notion that the army can defeat the will of a people bent on freedom, dignity, and independence, or whether they will reach the proper conclusion that Sharon’s policies have not only failed, but have been the major source of escalation and suffering on both sides.

Sharon’s obsessive extremism has placed both peoples on the road to mutual destruction with the resuscitation of the lethal either/or equation of survival, taking the conflict to its most irrational conclusion of mutual destruction.

If Mitzna follows through on his promise to end the occupation and to recognize parity of rights for the Palestinians, he will have gone a long way towards dealing with the causes of escalation and suffering.

Perhaps, and as a refreshing antidote to the policy of hate and domination, he will be able to inject some responsibility, morality, and ultimately hope into the desperate state of affairs that previous Israeli governments have imposed.

The test now is that of Mitzna and whether he will be able to provide the necessary leadership. It is also a test for the Israeli public and whether they will recognize the need for such a leadership.

The results of the January 28th, 2003 elections will determine the grade for Israeli democracy. They will also draw the course of the future for the whole region. Israeli elections are hardly a domestic issue.

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