The Current Israeli Political Landscape
Chat with Le Monde's Jerusalem correspondent Gilles Paris.
What is the current Israeli political landscape?
Is the Labour Party really able to supplant Ariel Sharon?
If Sharon had remained with Likud, the situation would have been very difficult for Amir Peretz. The departure of Sharon opens up some possibilities but everything depends on the campaign and the climate when the moment comes for the elections.
Do you think Amir Peretz was sincere in expressing the desire to see the evacuation of the Palestinian territories by the settlers?
Amir Peretz is to the left of the Labour Party when it comes to relations with the Palestinians. He is an historical figure of the peace movement. He joined the movement when it still carried significant weight. Recently, he proposed a draft legislation to allow the settlers on the “wrong side” of the security wall to receive an indemnity should they leave voluntarily. His convictions are clear, even if he attempts to move his rhetoric to the right, as he has already begun to do, on the question of Jerusalem and Palestinian refugees to win over centrist voters.
Has Israel said goodbye to bipartisanism?
Politics in Israel hasn’t been strictly bipartisan for several years. On the contrary, there has been fractionalization and a continuous weakening of the two big parties since their founding. Labour has been losing ground since the founding of the state of Israel; Likud has been weakening since the 1970s. Their demise has fortified marginal parties, who have forced the two big parties to form coalition governments, which are often unstable. The founding by Sharon of a centrist party has accentuated that fractionalization.
What’s in the cards for Likud, now that Sharon is gone?
Likud has lost its vote-getting locomotive but the departure of Sharon makes sense because there is a gap between what he plans to do about the Palestinians and Likud’s founding ideology. The nomination of Amir Peretz as leader of the Labour Party risks undermining Likud’s hold over “southern cities”, home to the disadvantaged social stratum composed for the most part of Sephardim. Likud is in trouble on two fronts as the early opinion polls show. Everything depends on who takes the reins.
Is Sharon prepared to give up some West Bank colonies ?
Do you think that Sharon is sincere when he says he wants to work toward peace, knowing that his actions contradict what he thinks, or what he wants public opinion to think?
Sharon will attempt to transform the legislative elections into a referendum on his person. It is likely that he won’t say much about the Palestinians. Ambiguity is the best means to hold onto the left wing of Likud and Israeli centrist and leftist voters who follow his lead. It is likely that he will carry out new evacuations from the West Bank after Gaza. For the moment, it is difficult to imagine evacuations negotiated with the Palestinians. Perhaps Sharon believes that he can come to a just-in-time and limited agreement with the US Administration.
At his age, what is Sharon after?
Without a doubt, Sharon wants to reserve an important place in history for himself. Sharon’s energy and determination stem from a feeling that he has been underestimated or disliked, especially within Mapai, the ancestor of the Labour Party, and to a lesser extent within Likud. Sharon’s thirst for revenge dates back to his days as a child in Kfar Malal, a moshav where his family settled and where his father was kept apart. Sharon has succeed where others have failed, especially David Ben Gurion, when he left the Labour Party in the mid-sixties. Sharon wants to at least stabilize the situation with the Palestinians. That’s what drove him today to form his own party, where he’ll have free rein.
With what parties could Ariel Sharon form a coalition for a possible government following the upcoming elections?
If Sharon wins, he’ll have a choice. He might dig up some rightists or leftists in Likud or even from among the Labourites.
Is Israeli public opinion ready to follow Peretz in his desire for peace with the Palestinians?
Up to now, the Israeli press has been concentrating on covering Peretz’ social message and his ethnicity —for the first time a Sephardim could be Prime Minister— rather than on his program for dealing with the Palestinians. Peretz is reticent on this score for fear of being labeled a pacifist or a leftist, which would ensure his defeat.
Do you think that because Peretz is a Sephardim, it is easier for him to develop contacts among the Palestinian Authority?
Sephardic cabinet ministers have had regular, long-standing relations with the Palestinian authority. It does not seem that their origins have been —or are— a factor that facilitates or aggravates relations with the Palestinians. It all depends on their politics. That goes for Peretz as well, if he is elected.
What would relations with the Bush administration be like if the anti-libéral Peretz comes to power? Isn’t he in favor of increased independence from Washington?
Israel’s attachment to the United States has less to do with choice than necessity. It is an old, solid and indispensable partnership which no Israeli government can do without. In Israel, to have reservations about economic liberalism does not mean, as it does in Europe, hostility towards the US Administration, whether Democrat or Republican.
Why are the French so circumspect when it comes to Sharon’s politics? Every time they attempt to incriminate him, he’s exonerated.
As far as I know, there has been no recent opinion poll on what the French think about Sharon. This opinion –and it is subject to verification– no longer links Sharon to Sabra and Shatila, an episode which forced him to resign following an Israeli investigation. He was not spared by the Israeli press, either.
What does the international community think about the New Sharon?
They are prudent but favorable. The Quartet, a grouping of the USA, the EU, the UN and Russia, has no illusions about the intentions of Sharon but it thinks that the Gaza evacuation, for example, was a positive thing and it is prepared to support a similar initiative in the West Bank.
Will Netanyahou take over Likud?
It appears he’s the best placed today. That would be ideal for Sharon because Netanyahou has a poor image in the eyes of Israeli public opinion. A Likud led by Shaul Mofaz or Sylvan Shalom would cause him trouble.