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. …