Friday, January 13, 2006

Can Israel's new leadership bring peace?

I have mentioned David Frankfurter's "Letter from Israel" before on this blog. David is an Australian who made aliyah with his family a number of years ago. I believe this his latest letter is a good summary of what I and many others are feeling at this time.

It is clear that even those who strongly opposed Sharon's policies, and wanted to see him out of office did not want to see it happen this way. Genuine concern for Ariel Sharon's health is heard all the time from all the political spectrum, and prayers for his recovery are joined by all - left, right, religious and non-religious.

The health of the Israeli political establishment was never in doubt, and the reins of government were immediately placed in the hands of those who by law are responsible. They have acted quietly and properly to ensure that the transition is smooth, supported by all sides. Opponents set aside the petty bickering that usually accompanies a change of power. Everyone simply acted in the best interests of the country.

Now, with little to be done for the Prime Minister outside the realms of medicine and prayer, attention is being turned to the upcoming elections. With a little less music, flair and bombast than usual, the parties are selecting their candidates. The elections will be held, and we will see who will rule. Initial trends show that Sharon's new party, Kadima, is expected to follow the path laid out in its formation and, if so, will probably win about the same number as seats as anticipated under Sharon's leadership. In short, not much has changed.

For those who have expressed concern as to the prospects of peace without Sharon, I think there is some misinformation here. It is unclear (at least to me) how Sharon would bring peace. Or his absence might prevent it. And yet, many people outside Israel seem to think that Sharon was the key to the future.

I wrote in December 2003, when Sharon announced the disengagement plan, that "Sharon has declared peace - and allowed the Palestinians to choose the terms. Negotiated with Israel or implemented by Israel - either way within the Roadmap framework that both sides have accepted."

The world went one step further, and told the Palestinians that disengagement from Gaza gave them an unprecedented opportunity to show the world what they could do when left to their own devices. And so they have. See the Funding for Peace Coalition website for a sharp analysis. The Palestinians have abrogated every commitment made to their international donor supporters, allowing the situation on the ground to degenerate into chaos of the worst kind, as well as deliberately bankrupting the PA. Bankruptcy that will generate more poverty as the payroll is missed and suppliers remain unpaid. The leadership will no doubt once again scapegoat Israel, inciting more terror and violence. Meantime, Palestinian rockets fall on Israeli towns, suicide bombers are stopped at checkpoints; business as usual.

In short, it is not the absence of Sharon on the political scene that puts peace at risk. It is a lack of desire or willing partner on the other side.