|AT THE CROSSROADS|
May 30, 1996
With 99.9 percent of the ballots counted, Benjamin Netanyahu is leading Shimon Peres 50.3 percent to 49.7 percent. For many, Netanyahu's lead is a big surprise. After a report from Charles Krause in Israel, Jim Lehrer talks to three experts about the implications of such a breathtakingly close election.
JIM LEHRER: Now three further perspectives. Abraham Ben-Zvi is a professor of political science at Tel Aviv University. He's now teaching this year at Georgetown University. Yaakov Achimeir is Washington correspondent for Channel One of Israeli Television. Amos Perlmutter is a professor of political science at American University. He was raised in Israel, worked at the Ministry of Defense before coming to the United States. Are the divisions of Israel as great as these election results seem to indicate?
|Divisions in Israel.|
ABRAHAM BEN-ZVI, Tel Aviv University: I don't think so. I think that we have a slow, incremental [shift] trend in Israeli public opinion which dates back to the mid 80's. I think the outcome, or the core of the issue of this election, were the irreconcilable gap, incompatibility between Shimon Peres's vision of the Middle East, they're cooperating in a huge and very ambitious and projects, developing projects, development projects, the cooperation in trade, and the shadow of terrorism. Israel in the daily life experience terrorism. They were anxious, they were edgy, they were concerned, and somehow Peres' vision of the future was totally decoupled and separated from a recalcitrant reality. And that, I think, was the outcome that accelerated processes which were in progress, and I think it doesn't necessarily mean that the Israeli society is fraught with cleavage. There are cleavages, but I don't think that the divisions are so sharp.
JIM LEHRER: How do you feel about it?
YAAKOV ACHIMEIR, Israeli Television: I think that this is a very deep division in the Israeli society. I think I regard the results of the vote as we see them until now as a vote of non- confidence, not in the parliament, but in the Israeli society, not in the peace process but in the way the peace process was conducted by Mr. Peres. I can assume that the Likud supporters, together with the Labor supporters and the rest of the country, they would like to see some kind of a peace process, an accommodation with the Palestinians, but they would like to see a different attitude or treatment of the Palestinian equation. And as I said before, I think the way it was handled in the past, until recently by Mr. Peres, was not liked by most of the Israelis.
JIM LEHRER: Do you agree that what this election was about was he peace process, and that's what divided the country?
AMOS PERLMUTTER, American University: Not exactly, not exactly.
JIM LEHRER: No?
PROF. PERLMUTTER: Not exactly. I think that I'll continue where Prof. Arian ended. I think there's a process that has taken place for the last 20 years, a decline of authority, founding fathers' authority, and above all the end of the party system and the end of the large party. Now, what was important about it? They were a party movement which could integrate within it. For instance, the Russians would not be independent as they are not. We have got now three ethnic groups, the Russians, the Arabs, and the religious. Usually, historically, the Labor Party or Likud would integrate them into the party and, therefore, they wouldn't be as, as--
JIM LEHRER: They each started their own ball game.
PROF. PERLMUTTER: Started their own ball game.
JIM LEHRER: Okay.
PROF. PERLMUTTER: So I consider the, the destruction of the party system and thirdly the last electoral law gave the coup de grace to the party system. It intended to do the opposite, to bring an end to multi-party system, to strengthen the position of the prime minister, and what did it do? It just did the opposite. You've got a big mess in parliament, and you have a prime minister that's going to be--have difficulties, whoever it is, to head a coalition, to work with that, you know.
JIM LEHRER: Do you agree that if it's Netanyahu he's going to be a weak prime minister?
MR. BEN-ZVI: Well, I think it boils down to the question of leadership. I think Netanyahu, by the way, is a pragmatist. He's not motivated by any ideological or strongly ideological proclivities and preferences. The question is to what extent will he be constrained by some of his coalition partners, some of the settlers who are ideologically inclined, and some of the leaders within the Likud? I believe that within the Likud there is a faction, a group of relatively young leaders such as Marido, Olmert, obviously David Levy, who are more practical, pragmatic and obviously you had the old guard and if you juxtapose Netanyahu with Shamir, obviously Shamir was always--
JIM LEHRER: He's the former prime minister--
MR. BEN-ZVI: Yes.
JIM LEHRER: --who is--the previous prime minister--
MR. BEN-ZVI: Yes.
JIM LEHRER: --who was Likud Party. Right.
MR. BEN-ZVI: Before Peres
And the question is of exerting leadership and to what extent will Netanyahu be capable of pushing ahead. Of course, there is going to be some procrastination, delays, but basically he cannot remain oblivious to the American constraints- -American approach. He was educated in this country, grew up in this country.
JIM LEHRER: Also, do these election results, because they were so close, he cannot claim a mandate, can he, or can he?
MR. BEN-ZVI: I believe that he can claim a mandate.
JIM LEHRER: He can.
MR. BEN-ZVI: The American president of 1960's, Kennedy's margin of course was as slim as Netanyahu, and for all practical purposes, he became the leader, so I don't think it will constrain him. I think his perception of his role and margin of maneuverability--
PROF. PERLMUTTER: President Lincoln had no mandate.
JIM LEHRER: Beg your pardon.
PROF. PERLMUTTER: President Lincoln was a minority president.
JIM LEHRER: Sure was. President Clinton only had 43 percent in the three-man race.
MR. ACHIMEIR: Obviously we are talking about politics and the political conclusions of, of--
JIM LEHRER: Sure.
MR. ACHIMEIR: --this election, but I think that maybe we could shed a little light about another aspect of this election, at least in my opinion, and this is the cultural change. This is also a cultural division.
JIM LEHRER: Explain that.
MR. ACHIMEIR: Division within the, within the Israeli society. On the one hand, you have the secular segment of the Israeli society, which is represented by the Labor and the merits and the Arab Party. On the other hand, you have the more conservative tradition or base in the American--in the Israeli society. And I think that these results of the Israeli elections of yesterday reminds me of what happened in 1977 when Mr. Begin was elected as prime minister of Israel. For nearly 30 years, the Labor Party ruled Israel democratically until 1977, and then in 1977, you know, new notions of cultural aspects came to--
JIM LEHRER: In other words, the secular began to take over from the religious and the conservatives.
MR. ACHIMEIR: Yes.
JIM LEHRER: And now, where are we now? We're going back the other way--
MR. ACHIMEIR: I think we're going back to tradition. We are back to Jewish notions, characteristics in the Israeli society.
JIM LEHRER: And has security enhanced that too? Is security a concern?
|The security issue.|
PROF. PERLMUTTER: Yes, the security concern is there, but I make a distinction between two types of securities, the personal security and the usual, traditional security -- borders, et cetera. The Israelis never feared seriously an Arab attack, although in '67 they were concerned but they knew that they can defeat it and they're comfortable. But the problem is all of us mentioned it. You get up in the morning, which bus are you going to take? You're going to be stabbed. It's like going back to 1936, personal security has become a very serious matter which has not been percolated, I think, to, to the leadership. I only want to say one more thing. I think that if I may something about the Palestinians. Arafat, I think, are not going to use--if they miss an opportunity--but all this sleaze, all this double game, all these truths and lies, all these positions did not work well. I think that the Israeli--
JIM LEHRER: What are you talking about?
PROF. PERLMUTTER: The Israeli people accepted Oslo at the beginning.
JIM LEHRER: I see. You're talking about the peace--
PROF. PERLMUTTER: The peace--
JIM LEHRER: --agreement that came out of Oslo.
PROF. PERLMUTTER: Yes.
JIM LEHRER: All right.
PROF. PERLMUTTER: All of a sudden, because they had experience with Egypt, you know, and everything was, you know, civilized. All of a sudden, you know, make a deal with somebody who you know is, is--
JIM LEHRER: Right.
PROF. PERLMUTTER: --played the good guy and he's got a terrorist, the bad guy--
MR. BEN-ZVI: He didn't--the issue of--
PROF. PERLMUTTER: The point is that Arafat did not project to be serious--
JIM LEHRER: We'll talk about Arafat.
PROF. PERLMUTTER: I know, I know.
JIM LEHRER: Let's talk about Netanyahu.
PROF. PERLMUTTER: But why did Netanyahu do well? Because of the--
JIM LEHRER: Right.
PROF. PERLMUTTER: --perception that it did not go well.
JIM LEHRER: All right. Let's talk about what Netanyahu may try to do or may be able to do or whatever as prime minister. What he did--for instance on a Palestinian state, he said, no way. Should that be--should he be taken at his word, and can he enforce that?
MR. BEN-ZVI: Well, in my view, Oslo is irrevocable, irreversible in the sense that and Netanyahu said flatly and explicitly that he's not going to turn the clock back as far as the Oslo framework or structure is concerned. Obviously when you try to translate it into reality, questions arise or multiples--for example, questions of--question of faith, the Israeli withdrawal from Hebron, which is due shortly, and of course, the--
JIM LEHRER: When exactly is that scheduled for?
MR. BEN-ZVI: It was initially--
JIM LEHRER: Initially--it was delayed because of the bombing--
MR. ACHIMEIR: Because of the election.
JIM LEHRER: Because of the election. So when is it scheduled for now? Is it just--
MR. ACHIMEIR: After the election.
JIM LEHRER: After the election.
MR. BEN-ZVI: Yes.
JIM LEHRER: But that's not going to happen now, right?
MR. BEN-ZVI: And to move from the tactical to the strategic obviously--
JIM LEHRER: Let's explain to people who don't understand. Hebron is another, is a settlement on the West Bank--
MR. BEN-ZVI: Right.
JIM LEHRER: --which was supposed to be turned over to Palestinian control.
MR. BEN-ZVI: And it's much more complicated because of the Jewish community surrounded by a huge Palestinian community but basically obviously we, we reached the stage of negotiations about the permanent status of the territories, and here of course problems abound, namely permanent boundaries, the question of a Palestinian state in one way or another is bound to emerge, and Netanyahu is bound to -- I think, he will try to proceed elsewhere, not in this highly emotional-laden element, and of course, of Jerusalem.
JIM LEHRER: In other words, leave it, leave it status quo, don't fool with it, right?
MR. BEN-ZVI: Yes. Procrastinate and reassess, re-evaluate but enable Israelis to breathing space and not touch the issue of Jerusalem, not touch the issue of permanent boundaries, settlements, because settlements of course comprise a significant percentage of physical constituencies and supporters.
JIM LEHRER: And he, he had said during the election campaign tha he favored more or building up the Jewish settlements and the Labor Party--now the other thing, that other position that he took during the election was the, the Golan Heights. Do not give up the Golan Heights in exchange for peace with Syria. You expect that to remain that firm?
MR. ACHIMEIR: I don't know. Again, I am, uh, I can recall 1977, the previous change in the Israeli government, when Menachem Begin came to power. I am an Israeli. Who believed in Israel that Mr. Menachem Begin would give back the whole of the Sinai Peninsula for a peace with Egypt? Who believed in Israel, who dreamed in Israel that his minister of agriculture, Mr. Sharom, would dismantle the Jewish settlements in part of the Sinai in exchange of peace with, with Egypt? It's true. Sinai is not Judea and Samaria.
MR. BEN-ZVI: In terms of emotional ties.
|The Golan Heights.|
MR. ACHIMEIR: In terms of historical ties -- so we don't know what Netanyahu will do on the Golan Heights, but he has pressures from outside not to do, not to make concessions, uh, to, to the Syrians.
JIM LEHRER: Do you expect, just in general terms, that Netanyahu will try to reverse what has already have been accomplished, or, or would just kind of sit on that?
PROF. PERLMUTTER: I have a different view. Concerning the Golan Heights, he has no partner. Assad is not a partner.
JIM LEHRER: I know, I know, but what is his attitude?
ROF. PERLMUTTER: His attitude--
JIM LEHRER: In other words, what will he attempt to do?
PROF. PERLMUTTER: I'll tell you what he will attempt to do, for instance.
JIM LEHRER: In general terms.
PROF. PERLMUTTER: In general terms.
JIM LEHRER: Okay.
PROF. PERLMUTTER: Let's say that he comes, he sits down with Arafat eventually. Any terrorist activity he will dessist in negotiations. Rabin and Peres continued despite terrorist activity. Second, and most important, since the most significant member of his cabinet will be Ariel Sharon, who actually helped organize, you know, the merger in the election, Ariel Sharon will advocate that we can send troops into Gaza and West Bank to punish the terrorists the way we used to do it in Jordan, Syria, et cetera. And of course, that's not going to work very well.
JIM LEHRER: All right. But just in a word, do you believe, I want to get to the general thing, what his attitude will be toward what has already been done in terms of the peace process--will he try to reverse it, or will he take it--
MR. BEN-ZVI: Absolutely. No doubt, there are going to be some fluctuations.
JIM LEHRER: Okay.
PROF. PERLMUTTER: But he can bring it to death. He can bring it to death.
JIM LEHRER: Okay. Thank you all very much.