THE GOOD NEWS IS THAT THE LABOR PARTY -freed of the opportunists who were always more interested in their own power than in serving the cause of peace and justice and who jumped into Ariel Sharon's Kadima Party the moment they saw that it would be a surer path to power-has reconstituted itself as a party with some interestingideas and principles. Amir Peretz, the new leader of Labor, has been a champion of social justice for the most oppressed members of Israeli society. At a time when one out of three Israeli children lives in poverty, a voice for that constituency is badly needed. The government employees, kibbutzniks, and professionals who constituted much of Labor's traditional base were rarely able to get enthusiastic about a social justice agenda when the party was under the control of its old elite.
The bad news is that even when Labor allies with Yossi Beilin's Meretz party, the share of the votes it gets is less than 25 percent. The biggest bloc in the Knesset is made up of the "realists" who followed Ariel Sharon into the Kadima before Sharon's stroke. They supported the prime minister's unilateral withdrawal from Gaza and the northern West Bank, believing that only a tough leader with a reputation for hostility toward the Palestinians could lead the country out of the Occupation.
We may never know what Sharon would have done had he remained prime minister. Yet those who began to redefine Sharon as the ultimate peacemaker were surely misunderstanding his path. Sharon may have been a pragmatist, but he was also a territorial expansionist who never gave up his commitment to grab as much land as possible for the State of Israel. Fearing the power of international pressure, Sharon made clear to his party that the unilateral move from Gaza was in the service of creating international support for Israel to hold onto much of the West Bank.
Sharon's refusal to negotiate with the mild-mannered and peace-oriented Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, his systematic demolition of the PA's civil infrastructure, followed by the ludicrous demand that he would only deal with the Fatah-dominated PA if they used their destroyed security apparatus to repress Hamas precisely when the PA had no power to do so, and his insistence that the withdrawals from Gaza and the northern West Bank would be unilateral, all served to weaken the PA and give credence to Hamas' claim that Israel was not responding to the nonviolence of Fatah, but to the violence of Hamas. This was no surprise to those who understood that Sharon's major aim was to create a reality in the Palestinian world in which Hamas would become dominant, and the rest of the world would then abandon any efforts to press Israel into territorial compromises beyond those that Sharon intended to make unilaterally. It was a brilliant strategy for the expansionists, and it is now in full bloom.
We have feared this outcome ever since we saw how during the late 1980s the Likud sought to build up Hamas as an alternative to Fatah, precisely because the Likud sought to sow divisions within the Palestinian political community. Instead of the Israel/Palestine conflict being seen as a struggle that could be ended by an exchange of land for peace, it could now be reconstrued as an extension of the war between the West and Islam, and in that formulation many who had previously called for Palestinian rights would support the expansion of Israel's settlement activities in the Occupied Territories.
The likely outcome of the Israeli election will be a government that will question the legitimacy of a Palestinian government that includes Hamas. …