Monday, February 09, 2009

Future of Middle East peace hangs in Israeli election balance

Violence drives politics in the Middle East, not just in the decisions by the dictators who control the Arab countries, but also in the election booth in Israel's quasi-Democratic parliamentary system.

Tuesday, Israelis go to the polls, and once again they share in this election what has been shared before. The elections follow a major wave of violence and conflict. And, most of the Arab Palestinian citizens in Israel will, once again, cut off the noses of their pride to spite their best interests. They will boycott the elections argiong that there is no difference between the Kadima and Labor Parties on the left, headed by Tzipi Livni and Ehud Barak, and with the utltra-extremist parties led by Benjamin Netanyahu.

In the past, elections that have followed long periods of conflict and violence in Israel, have ended up causing israel's electorate to spin out of control to embrace the far right.

In happened in 1996, a year after Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated by an Israeli fanatic who opposed his support of peace with the Palestinians and a growing spat of suicide bombings by the Hamas terrorist organization. Benjamin Netanyahu ousted Shimon Peres as prime minister and drove the nation towards a harsher confrontation with the Palestinians and moved the region further away from peace.

In 2000, the peace process collapsed driven by a lot of factors. Those factors included the inept manipulation of the process by President Bill Clinton and his biased Middle East liaison Dennis Ross; the refusal of Barak, then Israel's prime minister to meet face-to-face with Palestinian President Yasir Arafat; and Arafat's inability to accept the elimination of the Palestinian Right of Return without a major quid pro quo from Israel. The collapse launched the 2nd Intifada, or Palestinian "rebellion" against the Israeli occupation, and another long wave of violence and suicide attacks by Hamas. That violence helped Ariel Sharon, one of Israel's most extreme leaders, to win the election.

Now, as the war with Hamas in the Gaza Strip has raised the level of condemnation of Israel's harsh military assault that included hundreds of civilian fatalities by nation's throughout the world, Netanyahu is perched to once again win. Many believe Netanyahu's rivals, Livni and Barak and Ehud Olmert, the Israeli Prime Minister who has been accused of wide spread corruption and was forced to step down as a candidate for re-election and th ehead of his party, launched the Gaza War thinking they could undercut Netanyahu's extremism by showing the voters they could flex their muscles.

But the Gaza war failed to achieve any of Israel's goals. Hamas remains not only as a potent force but with growing popularity among frustrated Palestinians convinced Israel will never concede any land or remove core settlements in the West Bank. Israel withdrew after weeks of onslaught, but without destroying Hamas.

The real tragedy is that the Middle East has been leaderless for years. Everyone talks peace, but few leaders, Arab or Israeli, have the courage to fight for peace. it is easier to fight in wars.

Even more tragic is the fact that Arabs and Israelis both know what the final compromise will be: Land for peace. Israeli security. Palestine in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. A sharing of Arab East Jerusalem with Israel given control over the city's ancient Jewish areas. Compensation for the refugees, Palestinian and Jewish. And Israel keeps some settlements in the West Bank in exchange for an equal amount of land (inch-for-inch) from the pre-1967 Israel borders.

The peace agreement is out there. It's just waiting for people willing to make it work.

-- Ray Hanania

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