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Kadima, Sharon, Peres

GI Alternative takes on Israel's young political couple, Sharon and Peres, 02.12.05, Various Sources  

Israel's PM Confident of Re-Election
by Karin Laub, The Washington Post 
TEL AVIV, Israel -- Confident of election victory, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said Thursday he will make "every effort" to reach a peace deal with the Palestinians in his third term, but that he is in no rush to negotiate with Syria.
Laying out his agenda, Sharon also said the world has military options to halt Iran's nuclear weapons program, but that diplomacy should remain the first line of defense.
Sharon appeared relaxed in a question-and-answer session with Israeli news editors, but largely evaded attempts to pin him down on policy details. He has said his main goal in leaving the Likud Party and forming a centrist movement, Kadima, was to make progress toward an agreement with the Palestinians.
Polls have shown his new party coming out on top in March 28 elections, and able to hook up with the dovish Labor to form a stable coalition with a peacemaking agenda. "I will win these elections," Sharon predicted Thursday.
Sharon said he would "make every effort to advance the peace process," repeating his commitment to the U.S.-backed "road map" peace plan, which envisions a cessation of violence and the creation of an independent Palestinian state.
However, he said Israel will keep large Jewish West Bank settlements in any peace deal and suggested that Israel would have a hard time giving up the West Bank's Jordan Valley, on the border with Jordan, calling it a "security zone."
He added that he does "not foresee" additional unilateral pullbacks, following last summer's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. He also said settlement construction is continuing, and that he will not encourage Israeli settlers living on the "Palestinian" side of Israel's West Bank separation barrier to move back to Israel.
Government statistics released Thursday said the Jewish settler population in the West Bank is expected to grow by 4.3 percent _ faster than in any other Israeli district _ this year. The 243,000 settlers live among more than 2 million Palestinians in territory the Palestinians claim for a future state.
There has been speculation that a coalition led by Sharon would impose a peace deal in the event of a deadlock in negotiations with the Palestinians, and that Israeli troops and settlers would withdraw to the West Bank separation barrier, which would then become Israel's de facto border.
A Sharon ally, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, acknowledged that the barrier is far more than a means to keep out Palestinian militants.
"One does not have to be a genius to see that the fence will have implications for the future border," Livni told a legal conference this week, according to her spokesman, Shai Ben-Mor. "This is not the reason it was built, but it could have political implications."
The Palestinians have long complained that Israel is drawing a border by building the barrier and thus pre-empting the outcome of negotiations. If the barrier became the border, Israel would annex 8 percent of the West Bank and keep east Jerusalem, the sector of the city the Palestinians seek as a future capital.
Sharon appeared relaxed in a question-and-answer session with Israeli news editors, but largely evaded attempts to pin him down on policy details. He has said his main goal in leaving the Likud Party and forming a centrist movement, Kadima, was to make progress toward an agreement with the Palestinians.
Polls have shown his new party coming out on top in March 28 elections, and able to hook up with the dovish Labor to form a stable coalition with a peacemaking agenda. "I will win these elections," Sharon predicted Thursday.
Sharon said he would "make every effort to advance the peace process," repeating his commitment to the U.S.-backed "road map" peace plan, which envisions a cessation of violence and the creation of an independent Palestinian state.
However, he said Israel will keep large Jewish West Bank settlements in any peace deal and suggested that Israel would have a hard time giving up the West Bank's Jordan Valley, on the border with Jordan, calling it a "security zone."
He added that he does "not foresee" additional unilateral pullbacks, following last summer's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. He also said settlement construction is continuing, and that he will not encourage Israeli settlers living on the "Palestinian" side of Israel's West Bank separation barrier to move back to Israel.
Government statistics released Thursday said the Jewish settler population in the West Bank is expected to grow by 4.3 percent _ faster than in any other Israeli district _ this year. The 243,000 settlers live among more than 2 million Palestinians in territory the Palestinians claim for a future state.
There has been speculation that a coalition led by Sharon would impose a peace deal in the event of a deadlock in negotiations with the Palestinians, and that Israeli troops and settlers would withdraw to the West Bank separation barrier, which would then become Israel's de facto border.
A Sharon ally, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, acknowledged that the barrier is far more than a means to keep out Palestinian militants.
"One does not have to be a genius to see that the fence will have implications for the future border," Livni told a legal conference this week, according to her spokesman, Shai Ben-Mor. "This is not the reason it was built, but it could have political implications."
The Palestinians have long complained that Israel is drawing a border by building the barrier and thus pre-empting the outcome of negotiations. If the barrier became the border, Israel would annex 8 percent of the West Bank and keep east Jerusalem, the sector of the city the Palestinians seek as a future capital.
Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said Thursday that Sharon is trying to impose a deal. "I think he wants to make peace with himself and his voters," Erekat said.
Also Thursday, the military said security forces arrested a reporter for the Al-Jazeera satellite station in Hebron. Awad Rajoub, a reporter for the station's Web site, was detained Wednesday for security reasons, the military said. Al-Jazeera confirmed the arrest.
Sharon, meanwhile, said he is in no rush to resume peace talks with Syria, which broke off in 2000. Restarting such negotiations would only ease U.S. and French pressure on the Syrian regime, he said.
"In my opinion, Israel should not surrender the Golan Heights," he added, referring to the plateau Israel captured from Syria in the 1967 Mideast War and annexed in 1981.
Sharon also said Syria has not abandoned its ambitions to control neighboring Lebanon.
Concerning Iran, the prime minister said he was confident all diplomatic efforts would be exhausted before any international military action is taken _ but that military capabilities exist.
Asked if any country is considering a strike against Iran to prevent it from developing nuclear weapons, Sharon replied, "I am sure that before anyone goes to take such steps, all attempts will be made to pressure Iran to stop all this activity."
But the ability to carry out a military strike "of course exists," he said.
Although Israel is preparing for the possibility that Iran will acquire nuclear weapons, it won't lead the fight against the Islamic state's nuclear ambitions, Sharon said. Israeli warplanes destroyed an Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981, but experts say a similar strike would be difficult because of the dispersed nature of Iran's nuclear program.
Asked about reports that Saudi Arabia's king has come out in support of Labor leader Amir Peretz, his main election rival, Sharon joked: "Perhaps the Saudi king doesn't know the situation in Israel well enough."
 
GI Editor's Note: Notice the difference in coverage between Peres overseas and back in Israel (where he is as [un]popular as ever).
Now Shimon Peres is Ariel Sharon's Problem
by Daniel Ben Simon, HAARETZ
One has to admire the political maturity the Israeli voters have shown when it comes to Shimon Peres. With their sharp senses, they picked up on what colleagues, individuals with vested interests and benefactors tried to cover up for years. The aforesaid always marketed Peres as someone who is driven by peace and the good of thecountry, and as a man of the world who could bestow honor on the state. But the simple folk, those who have it tough, those with morals and a conscience who truly have the good of the country at the forefront of their concerns, have always seen him as an incorrigible opportunist, a politician lacking in qualities, a power-hungry individual who became addicted to the pleasures of the government.

And this is the reason they humiliated him time and again. Every time he ran for office, the voters pushed him away from the centers of national responsibility. Because they knew, with their sharp senses, that this is a man who has no God other than his personal good.

Peres twice served as prime minister ¬-and by both times by default. The first time, in 1984, he shared power with Yitzhak Shamir due to the lack of a clear result in the elections. The second time was in 1996, when he inherited the office of Yitzhak Rabin following his murder. On both occasions, Peres failed at the polls. After Rabin's murder, Peres started in the best position in the world. In order to nail down his victory against Benjamin Netanyahu, he even donned a flak jacket and initiated a military adventure in Lebanon.
 
But this didn't help him either. And ever since, he has busied himself with finding jobs for himself and his cronies. Now, too, after suffering a crushing defeat at the hands of Amir Peretz, he has begun talks with the view of securing a job. One can say with certainty that over the last 20 years, Israeli politics has been busy finding employment for Shimon Peres so as to avoid offending him, God forbid. After every defeat, he put on the face of a victim and extorted yet another dignified role.

And every time, he repeats the trick of saying that he is doing it for the sake of peace. He delayed Labor's entrance into the Sharon government until he won the right to be called vice premier rather than deputy prime minister, because it sounds more impressive.

This path of wheeling and dealing led him yesterday to the moment of truth of his political life. Some 60 years of wheeling and dealing were condensed into one appearance before the nation. He was faced with two alternatives ¬ to show dedication to the path he has walked and believed in all his life, or to take a job with his mate, Ariel Sharon. Once again it was obvious he would not be able to resist the temptation and would choose the second option.

The slap in the face is intolerable, not because of the decision to jump ship after the scathing defeat, but because the man spent the last two weeks making up his mind who to join ¬ as if he were perusing merchandise, as if he were about to embark on a political career.

One cannot avoid coming to the conclusion that the reason Peres left his political home is the reason voiced by his brother, Gershon, another renowned philosopher. There is no escaping the conclusion that evil and ugly motives were behind the decision to jump ship ¬ not ideology or anything else like that. Amir Peretz is simply not "one of us." He is "different" and he looks "different."

A chapter in the Labor movement has been closed. The eternal leader who came across as an electoral barrier to large segments of the public has upped and left. Now, he has become Ariel Sharon's problem.
 

                                                      
The Other Meaning of Israel's Political "Earthquake"
by Ramzy Baroud, Arab News
Most of what has been written about Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s departure from the Likud party has compared the move to an “earthquake”, the “eruption of a volcano” and has, without a doubt, turned the Israeli political map “topsy-turvy” to borrow Ha’aretz’s Gideon Samet’s phrase.
Like an earthquake it was unforeseeable — except to the prudent few, mostly in Israeli political circles who predicted a dead-end in Sharon’s dealings with the Likud, the same political party he helped create 30 years ago.
But acknowledging the significance of the undeniably important event is one thing. Succumbing to a flawed analysis that it is a real opportunity to resuscitate the so-called peace process — is entirely a different matter.
Similar to his unilateral move to “disengage” from the Gaza Strip earlier this year, Sharon’s decision on Nov. 21 to jump the Likud ship in favor of a new center-based ‘liberal movement’ — a political party tentatively known as the National Responsibility — the right-wing prime minister managed to, once again, control the media discourse surrounding his newest quest.
Careful exploration of the US media’s coverage of Sharon’s announcement that he — a 77-year-old leader with extensive history of political extremism and longer history of war crimes — has become a “centrist” would reveal a bizarre finding: The media, almost immediately accepted, with little scrutiny to speak of, Sharon’s new self-designated credentials.
Associated Press writer Ramit Plushnick-Masti perceived the event as part of Sharon’s “slow metamorphosis from hawk to moderate.”
Bloomberg rushed to examine the opinion of mostly pro-Israeli apologists. “Israel’s political upheaval may advance Mideast peace prospects,” it hastily concluded.
Alison Caldwell, of Australia’s ABC Radio, referred to Sharon and other Likud defectors as “the more progressive members” of the right-wing party.
The depiction of Sharon as a moderate, risking it all to salvage the peace process, along with his more progressive colleagues is a misguided, if not an embarrassing inference to say the least.
While one can easily decipher the source of the upsurge in Sharon’s reputation in the media as rising ‘liberal’ politician — his decision to disengage from Gaza being the most obvious — one cannot help but wonder whether Sharon’s enthusiasts who hurryingly registered his renewed ‘commitment’ to the Road Map were even aware of his concurrent decision to further expand three major illegal settlements in the Occupied Territories — Maale Adumim, Adam and Ariel. If they were aware of his future designs, wouldn’t responsible journalism compel reporting that the Road Map calls for the halting of settlement expansion?
However, the ongoing portrayal of the process of split-up and formation in Israeli politics as one with the potential of determining the future of the peace process, omits every other fact that may negate such an assertion.
True, the upheaval and subsequent reshuffling that recently took place among the ranks of the Labor Party had more to do with redefining Israel’s priorities than achieving peace with the Palestinians. The deposing of the elitist Deputy Prime Minister and former Labor Party leader Shimon Peres, in favor of the more socialist-like Amir Peretz is in essence an attempt to reroute the government’s focus and resources to poorer Israeli communities, whose plight has deteriorated as a result of the government’s endless spending on its ongoing illegal settlements projects in the West Bank.
Nonetheless, the Likud Party mayhem is essentially ideological. Though the outcome of the Israeli debacle will implausibly yield full recognition of long denied Palestinian rights and the acceptance, without further spins, of international law as the basis of resolving the conflict, one must not unwisely write off scenarios that will possibly emerge following the March 2006 elections.
The Likud and Sharon’s emerging political party have not changed, nor have they substantially altered their ideological interpretation of their conflict with the Palestinians. Even in the midst of the disengagement hype, Sharon never ceased to assure Israelis that the move is tactical, that his commitment to the country’s expansionist project is as ever strong. The prevailing understanding among Israeli officials was that the “painful” and indeed marginal withdrawal from Gaza was merely aimed at altering demographics in favor of Israel, converge the country’s resources to expand West Bank settlements and indefinitely postponing the peace process with the Palestinians.
Thus, if one must accept that Sharon has indeed metamorphosed from one character to another, it was his move from being a right-wing ideologue to a right-wing strategist. Alas, for Palestinians, the end result is the same.
 

How Reality Cut Likud's Vision Down to Size
by Steven Erlanger, The New York Times
JERUSALEM
EYAL ARAD joined Likud 30 years ago, at the age of 17.
"We had a dream - Jewish sovereignty in the biblical Land of Israel, on both banks of the Jordan River, and Palestinians could have self-rule and not independence," he said. "I believe it was a beautiful and just dream, but it crashed against the walls of reality."
There were many such walls, not least of them a rapidly growing Arab population, a falling rate of Jewish immigration and the Palestinian demand for a sovereign state. The experience was painful, said Mr. Arad, now an adviser to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. "But we're grown-ups, and we had to wake up from the dream," he said.
It was Mr. Sharon who shook dreamers like Mr. Arad awake, and who last week threw a grenade into Likud itself, quitting the party to form his own and to pursue his own approach to what he sees as Israel's new realities.
Mr. Sharon shocked Likud in 2002 by envisioning a Palestinian state and again this summer, by unilaterally pulling Israeli settlers and troops out of Gaza. Those acts were a betrayal of Likud's founding vision - a state on the biblical land of Israel.
"It was clear," Mr. Arad said, "the party could not have two souls."
With Mr. Sharon riding high in the polls for now, the questions are what will become of Likud and what's left of its dream. However much its members think of themselves as committed to the party's ideology, what is in front of them are practical questions of how and whether to divide the land and how best to achieve security for Israelis.
Likud was cobbled together in 1973, but its roots go back to Vladimir Jabotinsky, a Zionist visionary, who called, after World War I, for a single Jewish state on the entire British mandate. He saw it as a liberal society in which all inhabitants would have equal rights, but with a Jewish majority achieved by immigration. He called on Europe's Jews to leave for Palestine due to rising anti-Semitism, and he commanded the Irgun, the military arm of his movement.
Mr. Jabotinksy died in 1940, before the Holocaust, and before the creation of Israel on only part of a shrunken Palestine mandate. His inheritor was the Polish-born Menachem Begin, who kept the dream of a Jewish Palestine - a Greater Israel - alive, as he fought bitterly with the new state's founder, David Ben-Gurion, who accepted the partition, in 1948, as the only way to gain a independent Jewish state.
The Jabotinsky-Begin party was marginal, and the idea of undoing partition or reclaiming the whole land of Israel seemed absurd. Then came the 1967 Arab-Israeli War and Israel's quick conquest of the West Bank, Gaza, the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem. It seemed to some here that God had intervened.
And for those in what became Likud, said Shlomo Avineri, a political philosopher and historian of Zionism, "it wasn't just claiming Eretz Israel any more, it was being in possession of it." Instantly, he said, Likud "had to do with reality, not just dreams."
Mr. Sharon, one of Likud's founders in 1973, became an avatar of the movement to settle the conquered territories with Jews. Mr. Begin, meanwhile, built Likud into a governing party by appealing to Jewish immigrants from North Africa, who felt alienated from the Labor Party. A portrait of Mr. Jabotinsky, a kind of secular saint, adorned every party conference, hanging above or near the stage like an icon.
But the current Likud, says Arye Naor, an expert on the party who teaches at Ben-Gurion University, is a different matter. Even before Mr. Sharon left it, the party had become less ideological, he said.
"None of them insists any more on Greater Israel," he said. "They don't say, 'This is our land, we shall never surrender.' From that perspective, Yitzhak Rabin and the Oslo agreement won."
He was referring to the fundamental change of the 1990's: Direct negotiations with the Palestinians, based on exchanging occupied land for peace, began at Oslo and led to the formation of the Palestinian Authority. Even the Likud prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, committed himself to that process, however unhappily, by pulling out of part of Hebron and negotiating the Wye accords, which handed over parts of the West Bank to Palestinian control.
The main differences now, between the Likud of Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Sharon's new party, are over security, not ideology.
Likud believes that Israel should relinquish land only in return for peace with the Palestinians, a position summarized by Mr. Netanyahu's slogan, "If they give, they get."
Mr. Sharon, justifying the unilateral withdrawal from Gaza, expressed other concerns - about demographic trends and the need to preserve a Jewish majority within a democratic state. That meant shedding territory that had too few Jews and too many Palestinians - like Gaza, for a start.
As Mr. Arad prefers to put it, the Sharon idea is not so much to trade land for peace - in other words, something real for something intangible - as it is to trade a Palestinian state for conditions that guarantee Israeli security. In his vision, the Palestinians will still have to show, by dismantling groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad that carry out terrorist attacks, that they have given up the military option and the intention to destroy Israel.
"Sharon," Mr. Avineri said, "has learned the language of the possible."
Greater Israel, Mr. Naor said, "is now only a religious ideology, held only by the religious parties, not by Likud anymore."
And what remains of Jabotinsky in today's Likud? Mr. Naor laughed. "Only his photograph, hanging in the hall."