- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 7, 2000

As his government coalition continued to shrink, Prime Minister Ehud Barak called for an early election

set for spring 2001. In a matter of less than two years, both Prime Ministers Barak and Benjamin Netanyahu have failed to achieve a final status agreement with the Palestinians. Neither has succeeded in creating conditions for peace with either of their diametrically opposed strategies or goals.

Mr. Netanyahu's effort to postpone the final decision on the Palestine State was the essence of his strategy. Mr. Barak promised the electorate that within his first year in office peace would be reached and a Palestine State would exist, in agreement with Israel supported by the United States. The vicissitudes of history are clever indeed.

The goals of the two prime ministers, one to postpone the formation of a Palestine State and the other to help create it, have been frustrated by the leader of the Palestinians. Yasser Arafat is in fact the nemesis of Oslo, and has created conditions that have brought upon the fall of two Israeli governments and prolonged the misery of the Palestinian children he sends to war against the Israeli Defense Force.

Will the next Israeli election bring upon the resolution to this conflict? I have grave doubts because of the election platform strategies of the two parties. Both are cognizant that 56 percent of the Israeli electorate favors Mr. Barak's ideas for peace. However, the opinion polls fail to ask what they would favor if the violence continues, or if they believe either of the major party candidates will be able to achieve the peace.

Mr. Barak is running on a peace platform he calls "a graduated permanent agreement," which means he is willing to gradually return 50 percent of the West Bank to the Palestinian Authority even if Mr. Arafat does not declare "end of conflict." This agreement also would postpone the decisions on Jerusalem and the refugee right of return, and create an Israeli security zone in the Jordan Valley.

This new program in essence denies some of the serious concessions that Mr. Barak made at Camp David last August. There he proposed the return of 93 percent to 95 percent of the West Bank to the Palestinian Authority, insisting on a Palestinian declaration of "end of conflict." Also, Palestinian sovereignty would have been extended to a number of their neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, and there would have been a shared sovereignty over the Old City and, especially, the Temple Mount.

Two serious concessions made at Camp David are not included in the so-called "graduated permanent agreement." The Camp David proposal made an effort to deal with the right of return with Israel's partial compensation of the refugees (a tacit Israeli recognition of responsibility), and also granted Palestinian sovereignty over the Jordan Valley linked to Israeli security deployment along the river. The reason these contentious issues are absent from the new Barak plan is that he can only win the election if these issues are kept off the table at this time.

Mr. Arafat rejected the "graduated permanent agreement" immediately. So did the right-wing parties led by Likud.

How will the two parties differ in the election? Mr. Barak has opted to continue with Oslo. His oscillation between calling Mr. Arafat a partner or not is empty rhetoric. Mr. Barak's plan is Oslo in different language. Likud's platform is clear. Their view is that Oslo is dead, and they call for a new negotiation modality that gives priority to Israeli security needs and imposes Palestinian reciprocity for Israel's territorial concessions.

What did the polls tell us about the wishes of the people of Israel? The Zemach Poll of Nov. 30, quoted in Ma'ariv on Dec. 1, demonstrates that voters on the right give Mr. Netanyahu 66 percent with 9 percent for Mr. Sharon; while on the left polling results are surprising. Shimon Peres gets 26 percent, 2 percent less than Mr. Barak's 28 percent, and the leading dove, Avraham Burg, also has 26 percent. In answer to the question "Who would you like to be the candidate of the right for prime minister?," the results were Mr. Netanyahu, 59 percent; Mr. Sharon, 21 percent; and Silvan Shalom, 14 percent. The same question for the left resulted in Mr. Peres 29 percent, Mr. Barak, 26 percent; Mr. Burg, 26 percent. It is remarkable that Mr. Peres and Mr. Burg garner more votes on the left than Mr. Barak. It is also remarkable that Mr. Sharon and Mr. Shalom make up 35 percent of Israeli preference for prime minister on the right. To have Mr. Sharon in the government is a much more serious problem for Mr. Netanyahu that having Mr. Peres in the government would be for Mr. Barak.

The election will demonstrate that Israel's electorate is as divided as the American electorate. The difference between the two is that the composition of Israel's government is an existential matter, while in the United States it is a matter of more or less taxes or the type of prescription drug program that comes out of the Congress.

The Israeli election will be conducted during increasing Palestinian violence. Mr. Arafat will not wait peacefully for Israel's election results. Violence will only enhance the chances of the right or will stiffen Mr. Barak's position. He may even abandon his "graduated" program. The Palestinians will not surrender one iota of their demands, and will continue their diplomatic strategy of violence.

Therefore, the 2001 election will not create a sustainable coalition for peace. Israel was once notorious for its cohesive party system, which is now nonexistent. There is no party discipline, and the coalition in the Knesset continues with their fratricidal lack of resolution.

Amos Perlmutter is a professor of political science and sociology at American University and editor of the Journal of Strategic Studies.[p]

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