Monday, October 25, 2004


What the heck is going on here?

Two articles in Ha'aretz are pretty illustrative of the current chaos that exists in Israeli politics today. The first one is about Amram Mitzna, former leader of the Labor Party, who told residents of Alei Sinai, a Jewish settlement in the West Bank, that if the Gaza withdrawal were negotiated with the Palestinians they would not have to leave the settlement, as it and two other settlements, Dugit and Nissanit, could remain under Israeli control. So Sharon is promising to evacuate settlements and Mitzna is promising that he could have kept them? What is going on here?

Well, what's going on is that Mitzna is really making a mistake (in my estimation). Does he think that he can really convince settlers that Labor would be better for their interests? That they will hear him and suddenly tell the government that it supports negotiations, that it would like to see a meeting with Arafat? I do not think so. It comes across as only Mitzna suffering from delusions. It only plays into the hands of those who sit to the right of Sharon in the Likud party and of the far-right Israeli parties, who will say "Look, Sharon is even worse than Labor, how can we support him?" Also, it really reveals the mindset of the Labor party and is indicative, I believe, of why Barak did not achieve peace with the Palestinians. The idea that the Israelis can force the Palestinians into accepting the settlements if only you can continue negotiations.
According to Mitzna, Sharon's insistence on returning to the 1967 Green Line border could pose a problem in terms of the future of the peace process.
Yes, in the view of the Labor party a dangerous precedent is being set, whereby Israel may be expected to look to internationally accepted borders and standards instead of imposing its superiority on the Palestinians (whether through negotiations or otherwise). And Mitzna actually thinks that he could have achieved a year-long ceasefire with the Palestinians. I highly doubt it.

The second article is about Palestinians with Israeli citizenship. Danny Rubinstein writes:
[O]ne [might] think that if there were a referendum on the disengagement plan that involves uprooting settlements in Gaza, Israeli Arabs would all turn out to support it and give Ariel Sharon a majority of the popular vote. But that will almost certainly not happen.

Israeli Arabs, like some of the Israeli left, will not come to the polls at all. If it's hard to drum up enthusiasm for voting in favor of Sharon on any matter among supporters of the Labor Party and Meretz, then it's even harder among Israeli Arabs, who don't have the merest spark of such enthusiasm.

Experience with Israeli Arab voting patterns indicates that Arabs throng to the polls when something directly affects them - and are apathetic about wider public issues. The clearest example is the Arab turnout for municipal elections. The Arab turnout in local elections is very high. All the rival parties (most based on the big families) recruit every possible vote in order to take control of the local council. But when it comes to more general things, like the race between Ehud Barak and Ariel Sharon for prime minister, Israeli Arab voter turnout dropped substantially to a virtual boycott.
And given what we've just seen from Mitzna's Labor party, is it really that surprising that they don't motivate the Israeli Arabs to vote for them? Much less Sharon? Rubinstein's central point is that even though a majority of Israeli citizens support the removal of settlements from the Gaza Strip and West Bank, a popular referendum on Sharon's Gaza "disengagement plan" would probably not reflect this. Indeed, the pro-settlement bloc is highly motivated to vote in opposition to the referendum whereas those who oppose the settlement enterprise in its entirety are not nearly as motivated with what Sharon has acknowledged will be a plan that leaves no settlers in Gaza but will be used to justify or deflect criticism resulting from continued or increased settlement activity in the West Bank.

So there we have it. The former head of Labor comes out seeming more pro-settlement than Sharon and the Palestinians with Israeli citizenship refuse to support the removal of settlements. I guess the lesson is that things are not always as simple as they seem, eh. Or maybe there is no lesson.

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