Israel and the Palestinians head for the polls

Submitted by Anon on 15 January, 2006 - 11:36

By Mark Osborn

"Sharon is still 'fighting for his life', between operation room and intensive care, but the myth-making is already going on at full speed", comments Adam Keller's alternative briefing, The Other Israel.

"The overwhelming majority of Israeli commentators describe Ariel Sharon as the tragic hero stricken by fate while only halfway through with what should have been the apotheosis of his biography: the man of war ultimately achieving peace. He is compared with Ben Gurion and with the murdered Prime Minister Yitzhak RabinĹ  The myth of Sharon the Peacemaker actually started from the moment of the disengagement of Gaza. But we are still convinced that he intended only to hand some crumbs of the West Bank to the Palestinians, to call it their state: shattered pieces connected with easily controlled bridges or tunnels to each other and, maybe in the end, also to the Gaza Strip;
nothing more.

"But now it seems the political role of Sharon himself is over, and what remains are the illusions of the followers of this new Kadima Party."

Sharon's co-thinker, Ehud Olmert, has become acting prime minister after Sharon suffered a massive stroke last week.

In an interview in the Guardian, last December, Olmert said, "Sharon has come to the conclusion that in order to preserve the Jewish and democratic character of Israel it is necessary to make compromises, but without returning to the 1967 borders or compromising on the unity of Jerusalem or giving up the fight against terror."

Olmert has been credited with shifting Sharon over to this, more moderate, position. During this interview Olmert also praised the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, as a "decent and genuine person" - unexpectedly, as Sharon has boycotted talks with Abbas.
A poll published in the Israeli paper, Ha'aretz, the day after Sharon's stroke, suggested that, under Olmert, Kadima would win 40 seats in Israel's March parliamentary elections, making it the largest party in the 120-member parliament, the Knesset. A second poll had Kadima winning 39 seats.

The Guardian's Ian Black speculates that, with such a result, "Kadima would almost certainly form a centre-left coalition government with the Labour party (likely to win 20 seats), and possibly others on the left, leaving the rump of Likud, down to 16 seats, in opposition."
However, opinion could change. And pressures inside Kadima will grow as the new party - created around Sharon, and very much his project as he burst out of Likud - gets used to Sharon not being around.
Kadima includes people from very different backgrounds, including the ex-Likud justice minister, Tzipi Livni, and former Labour leader, Shimon Peres. "If the voters start to doubt Olmert, it would be a matter of minutes before his friends in the party turned against him," said Shmuel Rosner of Ha'aretz.

On the left of mainstream Israeli politics is Amir Peretz, former Histradut union leader and the new leader of the Labour Party. Peretz is a long-standing supporter of Palestinian rights and a two states settlement. He states that, "within two years of taking office I will have eradicated child poverty in Israel".

Palestinian elections
On Tuesday 10 January Israeli Defence Minister, Shaul Mofaz, announced that Israel will permit Arab residents of East Jerusalem to vote in the upcoming Palestinian elections scheduled for 25 January. Israel had threatened to refuse to allow Palestinians in East Jerusalem to vote because Hamas, the Islamist organisation with a charter calling for the destruction of Israel, is participating in these elections.

Mahmoud Abbas says that the United States has assured him that East Jerusalem Palestinians will be allowed to vote in the city and the Palestinian Authority elections will therefore go ahead as.

Abbas may well still be looking for a reason to postpone the elections: his Fatah movement is split and weakened by popular disgust at top-level corruption. In December an open-split in Fatah took place when jailed intifada leader, Marwan Barghouti, declared his own election list.

An opinion poll found that 31% of Palestinians would choose Hamas, 27% would choose the bloc headed by Barghouti, and only 18% would choose Mahmoud Abbas' list. Subsequently the Fatah lists were amalgamated, with Barghouti gaining at the expense of some of the older leadership. Barghouti, from a younger generation of activists, is seen as both militant and honest.

The miserable situation that Palestinians find themselves in continues. According to the UK government, Palestinian food consumption has declined sharply; around 10% of Palestinian children are suffering "acute malnutrition."

According to Nigel Roberts, the World Bank's man in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the Palestinian Authority, the largest employer in the
territories, is facing a fiscal crisis that could result, as early as next month, in it being unable to pay the salaries of its
130,000-plus officials and security staff.

The World Bank puts the unemployment rate in the territories at more that 20 percent, with a rate of about 30 percent in the Gaza Strip,
over 40 percent in the southern part of Gaza, and among young people (ages 16-25) in southern Gaza, the unemployment reaches the alarming
rate of 70 percent.

Lawlessness in the Occupied Territories continues. Danny Rubinstein, writing in Ha'aretz, comments, "Lawlessness, especially in the Gaza
Strip, has reached unprecedented peaks. It includes the abduction of foreigners by armed gangs, a sort of revolt of police officers in
Rafah and a wild takeover of the border crossing there (the only connection between Gaza and the outside world), the breach of the
wall at the border with Egypt and the killing of two Egyptian police officers, a forcible seizure of government and municipal offices, and
a slew of other violent incidents and gun battles between rival gangs. The ones responsible are armed groups, generally members of
units that have been or are presently affiliated with the Palestinian security services - and they are all affiliated with the Fatah
movement."

One interpretation of the violence is that it is being orchestrated by Fatah, in order to create a pretext to postpone elections, that it
will lose to Hamas. However Mahmoud Abbas comments: "The reason for the security-related lawlessness is government weakness."

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