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Israeli Election

Ariel Sharon is elected prime minister of Israel in a landslide victory over incumbent Ehud Barak.

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  • RAY SUAREZ:

    For more on the Israeli elections we get four perspectives. Dennis Ross was special Middle East coordinator at the State Department during the Clinton administration. Amos Perlmutter was born in Israel and came to the U.S. in the early 1950s as a student. He is now a professor of political science at American University.

    Yossi Shain is a visiting professor at Georgetown University. He was chairman of the department of political science at Tel-Aviv University. And Shibley Telhami is the Anwar Sadat chair for peace and development at the University of Maryland. He grew up as Palestinian citizen of Israel and came to the U.S. to study when he was 19.

    Amos Perlmutter, if I had suggested to you a year or two ago that the next time we spoke Ariel Sharon would be prime minister of Israeli would you have believed it?

  • AMOS PERLMUTTER:

    Even five months ago I would have believed it. Sharon himself might have believed it — his victory is made of three — three victories. One is Arafat lost; the left wing in Israeli lost and Barak lost and Sharon has got a small role in it in my view with all due respect.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    So the analysts, Yossi, who are suggesting that this was not a Sharon victory as much as a Barak defeat, they're on to something?

  • YOSSI SHAIN:

    Absolutely. I think it's a Barak defeat but it's also an Israeli message. First of all, it's a Barak defeat because the Israeli public became tired of what it was seeing as a peace process that didn't take them anywhere.

    There was no stability; there was no security; there were many promises for the future but the future seemed very grim; violence and security were really featuring very deeply in the Israeli public. Barak's move in the last few months was also very troubling to the Israelis — he zigzags — his inability to take any kind of a very direct action against the Palestinians as it was perceived by the Israelis.

    His utterance one day — you know, take time out — the next day he did not — so that much very much the Israeli public became disenchanted with the process, became very much disenchanted with Barak, and mostly I think as Amos suggested became very much disenchanted with Arafat's intention to come to terms with Israel and the Palestinian's desire really to come to terms with Israeli security.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Some of the crowds cheering tonight at the Ariel Sharon victory party were chanting "Oslo is dead." Is it?

  • YOSSI SHAIN:

    There is one of the men who knows more about Oslo than many others who sits next to me here but I think that Oslo, if it's not dead, is almost dead. I don't think it exists anymore as part of a framework to arrive at peace in the Middle East.

    What I think right now the Israeli public is sending a message that we want some tranquility; we want some calmness; we want some stability. It's a very Hobsian moment, I would say, and voting for Sharon or voting against Barak is really sending a message we don't have to negotiate right now; let the Palestinians show what they can give in return. Let the Palestinians assert monopoly over the means of violence.

    Let's see that there is central authority that we can negotiate and can trust. And I think in that respect the idea of Oslo there is a partner to negotiate with that we can really arrive at one moment with some violence and understanding and secure boundaries have collapsed and I think that means also in my mind that the Oslo peace process is now finished.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Dennis Ross?

  • DENNIS ROSS:

    I guess I would state it slightly differently. First, Oslo has created a reality — Oslo created a Palestinian Authority and that reality is not going to go away. And any Israeli government is going to have to deal with that reality — number one. Number two — there is no military solution to dealing with the Palestinians.

    And that I think existed before Oslo but is certainly a legacy of Oslo as well. Number three, what I do agree with Yossi on, is the Israeli perception right now that they cannot be expected to negotiate peace in an atmosphere of violence where they feel vulnerable. The problem here is that the Palestinians feel they have a set of grievances as well, and somehow you're going to have to deal with Palestinian grievances even though you're dealing with the Israeli need for a sense of security.

    This process cannot go forward until you reestablishment an environment of security but you're also going to have to remove some of the daily sources of grievance with the Palestinians if you want this to go forward.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Well, Shibley Telhami, inside Israel Arabs boycotted the election widely. In the occupied areas this was a day of rage. For those people who are still trying to figure out for Arabs still trying to figure out how to live with Israeli what's the new situation?

  • SHIBLEY TELHAMI:

    Well, this was definitely a rejection of Barak, a sense of betrayal, a sense of being taken for granted. Over 95 percent of them voted for Barak last time. Barak failed to address their very genuine grievances, social economic inequities that still exist in Israel.

    And all of that was exacerbated by the confrontation last October between Arab demonstrators and the police during which 13 Arabs were killed and dozens were wounded. And I think what that highlighted to many of them was that the police still does not treat them as equal citizens.

    Many of them raised the question as to whether this would have been happened if the demonstrators were Jewish demonstrators and in essence that exacerbated what I think was an identity crisis they were undergoing as the issues of final settlement were being considered, because on the issue of Jerusalem, and on the issue of refugees the core issues in the final settlement negotiations — in fact Jewish citizens of Israel and Arab citizens of Israel had diametrically opposed interests, and that exacerbated, in my judgment, the tension and the identity crisis.

    I think what made it probably more likely for them to boycott now is one that there were no elections for the Knesset and so they were not voting for their own candidates and, number two, probably the very clear knowledge that even if they had voted in a large numbers, it would not have made the difference given what the polls were and therefore, it was a good time for them to make a stand and to send a message not to be taken for granted.

  • AMOS PERLMUTTER:

    I want to add to Shibley two important points. There is a process of Palestinization of Israeli Arabs and the most significant thing is the generation. It was not the generation under military government. This is a generation that was trained in a democratic Israel whether equal or not and they want to assert themselves; they want equal citizenship which they don't have. This is a totally different generation.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    But that phrase you used "Palestinization of Arabs" inside Israel —

  • AMOS PERLMUTTER:

    Yes.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    — what does that mean?

  • AMOS PERLMUTTER:

    I'll tell you what it means. When I saw — Mohammed — one of the leaders of the Muslim fundamentalists of Israel and asked him, you know, why don't you go now to lead your Palestinian people — and he I said I'm a Palestinian. I'm a Palestinian I'm going stay in Israel. I may help my Palestinian brothers but I'm a Palestinian. So there is a process of affinity with the movement which they have been removed from by virtue of war, violence and exodus.

  • SHIBLEY TELHAMI:

    May I just add that it's a lot more complex than that in the sense that Israeli Arabs as they became more and more part of the political system and they have over the years no question about it — that they have acquired more equity although still unequal — they have had more confidence in asserting their identity, which has been suppressed. And it's part of coming of age, and clearly that's what's going on.

  • YOSSI SHAIN:

    If I may make a small point here, I think that just as Barak's leadership failed miserably so did the leadership of the Arab leaders of Israel failed colossally. What Shibley is saying is absolutely true.

    There was in a sense asserting one's identity; the Arab Israelis — becoming Israelis — claiming the Israeli agenda — becoming political players in the last election even run a candidate for the prime minister and yet when the day came with the Intifada — it was unclear how much should we go out of our boundaries.

    Barak failed miserably in suppressing the Arab Israelis but the Palestinian Israeli leaders, the Arab Israelis, also failed miserably in drawing the line between what does mean to be citizens of Israel and what does it mean to be a Palestinian as part of Palestinization with the brothers in the West Bank and Gaza.

    I think this line is a very, very difficult one and if the government of Israel has a lot of work to do now, it's to mend the fences with the Arab Israelis. Barak failed in that respect because he didn't empower them and he perhaps mistreat them but they failed in also understanding the limits of this relation of citizens within the democratic country.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Turning now from the Arabs inside Israel to those in the occupied areas, Dennis Ross they're looking across the table now at a different politician from Ehud Barak in the form of Ariel Sharon.

  • DENNIS ROSS:

    There is no doubt and I think the violence that we've seen for the last four months has contributed a great deal to Sharon's victory. There are many Palestinians who felt violence was the tool to put more pressures on the Israelis to get the Israelis to respond more to their needs.

    The effect of the violence instead of getting them to respond more to Palestinian aspirations is going to create a retrenchment within Israel in terms of how they're going to approach things.

    One lesson that has to be learned is that violence doesn't work. That is a lesson they're going to have to learn I think very clearly — number one. Number two, just as Sharon has to deal with certain realities, there is a Palestinian authority; you cannot wish it away — you cannot ignore it; you'll have to address it, and you'll have to address legitimate grievances that that Palestinian authority has.

    The Palestinian authority also is going to have to address particular concerns that the Israelis have as it relates to security if they want their grievances to be addressed. I believe also the Palestinian authority is going to have to do more to put their own house in order. The last four months has begun to create a certain new reality in the territories.

    There has been a certain if not diffusion of power there has at least been the proliferation of new sources of power and there is also an increasing impulse toward settling of scores and I believe there is a need to reestablish greater order within the Palestinian authority for the sake and interest of the Palestinian authority itself.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    But are there possibilities created by this new government in a paradoxical way almost?

  • SHIBLEY TELHAMI:

    I think it's very hard to find a silver lining. Obviously miracles do happen. Given the agenda that Mr. Sharon comes with — given the small chance that he would have a broad national unity government and the more likely outcome of narrow right wing government, given the perception in the Arab world over him personally and therefore, magnifying every mistake he makes is going to reinforce the worst dreams about him — it's going to be hard to imagine early movement.

    Obviously everything is possible but early movement. And that's going — it's ripe conditions for people who want to carry out violence to do so.

  • AMOS PERLMUTTER:

    Well, I have a feeling that even if the leader of the center left would be prime minister of Israel he cannot accept the right of return — maybe some compensation. There are certain issues which you can't defuse them maybe postpone them — I think that the think the right of return is my view is more serious than Jerusalem.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    That's refugee Palestinians in the Diaspora.

  • AMOS PERLMUTTER:

    Yes, yes, absolutely — that's a problem for Arafat — problem for any Israeli prime minister. Now certainly Sharon who is a maximalist program is not going to go along with Barak's — nor will the Palestinian authority. Dennis is right — the Palestinian authority is in disarray in many ways. There is a new generation.

    If there'll be an honest election in the Palestinian authority, Arafat will not be the head of it, you know; there could be a younger generation. My view is this: that there are certain issues — I don't know what Shibley thinks about it — there are certain issues which are sine que non — existential — it's the right of return especially after the Intifada and the demonstration of the Arab Israelis to a return of any Palestinian back to Israel Proper.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    In the time we have left we have got to talk about the American role, which has been so enormous in the past six months as the waning days of the Clinton administration — a lot of pressure for a deal — now what — a new president in Washington as well?

  • YOSSI SHAIN:

    There is an expert next to me running the show so many years. I will say….

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    He's with the other guys though. Dennis will hear too.

  • DENNIS ROSS:

    The difference is I'm sleeping now.

  • YOSSI SHAIN:

    But, you know it's almost a cliché now that the American administration will have a hands off attitude to the conflict. That is, we want to see what Colin Powell just stated what the parties will do themselves before we insert ourselves into this conflict. I think Dennis will agree that this is the right posture to adopt.

  • AMOS PERLMUTTER:

    Bud do you think that it's possible?

  • YOSSI SHAIN:

    Now, the question whether it's possible is always a question what happened on the ground. Keep in mind that the peace process brought four prime ministers of Israel down. It brought Shamir down; it brought Rabin down, literally — killed Rabin — killed Peres not literally — and now dismantled Barak.

    Now Sharon understands that there is something as Dennis suggested in the beginning that we have to move forward and the Americans perhaps and Dennis may be illuminate about it may take us into a new track perhaps with Syria — perhaps some other forms of stability that will enable all the parties in the region to revive the Israeli Palestinian dialogue.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Dennis Ross, quickly, are there Americans who know Ariel Sharon well; are there already bridges built?

  • DENNIS ROSS:

    Well, I think Ariel Sharon is a known quantity to many Americans including some in the Bush administration. He, as I said, is going to have to produce something.

    He ran as a candidate of peace. I mean he wasn't running against the peace process. This wasn't a vote against peace in Israel. It was a vote against Ehud Barak; it was probably also a vote against Yasser Arafat. But it was not a vote against peace so he will have to find a way to stabilize the situation. He has to show he can produce there.

    You will not be able to produce security if you don't have a political process that promises something in terms of peace: The two have to go hand in hand. He will have to construct an approach that is realistic. I would add one last point — in the last year we focused on the Palestinians with what I would describe as a solutionist approach. We saw the potential because we had an Israeli government on a mission to end the conflict.

    Now that as an option is no longer there in part because you have a new Israeli government that will take a more limited approach to things — in part because Yasser Arafat was not able to respond either to Ehud Barak or to President Clinton with the ideas that President Clinton presented. Both sides are not in a position at this stage to conclude a final agreement that resolves all the existential questions of this conflict. They'll have to find something that creates a pathway back to peaceful coexistence and an eventual agreement.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Gentlemen, thank you all.

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