Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

For US, Little Role in Israeli Vote

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

For US, Little Role in Israeli Vote

Article excerpt

Significant US interests are at stake in the Israeli political campaign that began earlier this month. The capacity of Washington to influence the outcome, however, may be extremely limited.

The peace process: The Clinton administration has labored hard to maintain the momentum of peace between Israel and the Palestinians, but the break-up of the government of Benjamin Netanyahu and the ensuing campaign has frozen that process. The anticipated beginning of final-status negotiations has been indefinitely postponed. The possibility that Mr. Netanyahu will take new, risky initiatives, including further withdrawals from Palestinian territory, seems remote. At the same time, the prime minister, to please his right- wing supporters, has authorized new Jewish settlements that can only further complicate the efforts toward peace.

Possible US actions in support of Israeli-Palestinian agreements face other obstacles beyond the unwillingness of Israeli politicians to take risks. With grudging acceptance by the Netanyahu government of the Wye accords and the principle of withdrawal, the previous divide between Labor and Likud over peace policy has been blurred. Both parties - with different emphases - endorse positions on settlements and final status of Jerusalem unacceptable to the Palestinians. During the election campaign of 1996 between Netanyahu and Shimon Peres, the US publicly supported Mr. Peres as a promoter of peace. The result was a souring of relations with the new prime minister that added obstacles to diplomacy. The US isn't likely to choose sides this time and make the same mistake. Israeli political stability: The Netanyahu administration, now dissolved, was the first elected under the 1992 law providing for separate votes on the prime minister and the Knesset. The result has been a strengthening of the role of small, special interest parties, and decreased stability in Israeli decision-making and politics. That is demonstrated in today's campaign by a proliferation of candidates and new parties and a weakening of traditional political alliances. Legislation that has passed its first reading in the Knesset seeks to return, with some modifications, to the old election system, but passage isn't likely before the election. …

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