Election Politics Show Israel's Drift from Peace Negotiations ; the New and Favored Kadima Party Promises to Establish Borders on Its Own

By Cobban, Helena | The Christian Science Monitor, March 16, 2006 | Go to article overview

Election Politics Show Israel's Drift from Peace Negotiations ; the New and Favored Kadima Party Promises to Establish Borders on Its Own


Cobban, Helena, The Christian Science Monitor


The billboards have been going up, and each night's TV schedule is punctuated by a 40-minute block of state-funded political advertisements. Israel's voters and 15 political parties are preparing for an election March 28.

The choices they face there have been transformed by the upheavals the country's politics have seen in the past eight months - the clear frontrunner is the Kadima party, meaning "forward," which did not even exist until November. The most distinctive feature of the new party's platform, moreover, is that it turns its back on 58 years of Israeli commitment to negotiating peace with its neighbors, promising voters instead that a Kadima-led government is ready and eager to draw Israel's borders quite unilaterally.

On March 8 the party's head, Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, spelled out his intention that by 2010, "Israel will be disengaged from the vast majority of the Palestinian population, within new borders." These permanent borders would, he said, be close to the line of the present separation barrier in the West Bank, with some adjustments. And Israel would determine their location on its own.

This unilateralism appeals strongly to voters who, since late 2000, have been very disillusioned with the idea of trying to negotiate a peace with the Palestinians. "In past elections, the parties all adopted strong positions on the issue of peace," commentator Akiva Eldar told me. "But this time, the voters aren't looking for peace - they're looking for quiet."

Kadima's unilateralism builds on the success of the step taken last summer by now-ailing Prime Minister Ariel Sharon when his government unilaterally withdrew all Israel's troops and settlers from the Gaza Strip. That success punctured the myth of near untouchability previously enjoyed by the country's well organized networks of militant settlers. Strategic analyst Yossi Alpher told me that, "Now, Olmert should be able to withdraw settlers from the small, isolated outposts in the West Bank fairly easily." Mr. Alpher and other analysts agree, too, that another important factor spurring Israelis' support for unilateralism is the continuing feeling that "there is no one to negotiate with" on the Palestinian side. Hamas's victory in the recent Palestinian elections only strengthened that feeling.

One recent opinion poll showed the damage the founding of Kadima has caused to the two veteran "mainstream" parties in the country - especially Mr. Sharon's and Mr. Olmert's previous party, the Likud. It indicated that Kadima could win 37 of the 120 seats in the new Knesset, while Likud's presence would dive from 40 to 17 seats.

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