On the surface, the political overhaul in Israel looks like a positive development for the Palestinians. The split between Sharon and his Likud over his ordering a withdrawl from Gaza, means the creation of a new centrist party. Coupled with an emboldened Labour Party under its new leader Amir Peretz, perhaps the snap elections will yield a better political climate for the Palestinians.
But in the West Bank, the new developments are hardly a cause for celebration. A contact in Ramallah says I am being naive: “Sharon’s approach to the conflict with Palestinians is that of unilateralism. By its very nature, this approach cannot work for conflict resolution.”
He is in two minds about the effectiveness of Peretz too, and its difficult to predict whether he will be a friend or foe of the Palestinians. Although Peretz has said that the occupation is a moral and economic burden for Israel, and wants to resume negotiations with the PLO, he said recently he supports a ‘united’ Jerusalem, meaning he would maintain the occupation of East Jerusalem. Nor does the new Labour leader support the refugees right of return, to their homes in Israel.
“At this point, the situation is so stark, that Palestinians get excited by any Israeli politician announcing publicly that he is even willing to talk to us,” says my friend, cynically. A new government may bring a freshness to the Knesset, but it seems less likely that spring elections will clean up the mess of Israeli-Palestinian relations.