Observers and political commentators have asserted that the Israeli election this week would bring a totally different political landscape: a maroccan-born leader for the labor party, a new political party, the Kadima, the former labor leader Shimon Peres defecting to join the Kadima party, and general apathy on the part of Israeli Arab voters.
This may be a new landscape for the Israelis, but for the Palestinians it promises to be more of the same: continued dispossession, collective punishment, the continued denial of Palestinian fundamental rights, and the bad faith inherent in proclaming commitment to peace while working to block its realisation.
This sorry state of affairs is clear from the positions of the respective leaders of the major parties contesting the election. The new labor leader, Amir Peretz, is campaiging on a platform of social welfare and economic prosperity, relegating peace and negotiations with the Palestinians to secondary preoccupations. In any case, historically the Labor record on settlements is worse that that of the Likud.
Benjamin Natanyahu characteristically is bringing the Likud party closer to its origines in fascit ideology, and advocating a military solution to subjugate the Palestinians once and for all.
The leading candidate, Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, has confirmed his commitment to the Sharon vision of brute force and the imposition of unilateral solutions. This is in totoal defiance of the international communityâ€™s consensus, including that of the United States, for the need for a negotiated settlement freely arrived at to end the occupation and establish an independent and viable Palestinian state.
In his March 10 interview with the Israeli media, Olmert presented his plan to unilaterally set the Israeli borders in such a way as to incorporate the large Jewish settlement blocs Ariel, Maâ€™aleh Adumim, Gush Etzion, and the Old City and adjacent neighborhoods in occupied Arab Jerusalem.
Under the Olmert plan, prepared in collaboration with Sharonâ€™s principal advisor Dov Weissglas who claims to have consulted with the Americans, Israel would also keep military control over the Jordan Valley. â€œOur security borders,â€ Olmert said, â€œwill be along the Jordan. There are strategic considerations for this that we cannot relinquish.”
When asked if he intended to build between Jerusalem and Maâ€™aleh Adumim despite US objections, Olmert said: â€œOf course. After all, it is unthinkable that we will talk about Maâ€™aleh Adumim as part of the State of Israel and leave it like an island.â€ (Haaretz, March 10)
The plan presevers the Jewish character of the Israeli state by keeping the Palestinians of the West Bank out, expropriating more of their land, while preventing them from having a viable and sovereignt state, and making them subject to Israeli siege on a short notice.
It is therefore disingenuous on the part of Olmert and the Bush administration to demand that the new Palestinian government commit itself to the roadmap for peace.
The roadmap required that Israel â€œimmediately dismantle settlement outposts erected since March 2001â€¦[and] freeze all settlement activity (including natural growth of settlements.â€
The Sharon government has never accepted the roadmap. When pressed by then US Secretary of State Collin Powel to accept the roadmap in May 2003, Sharon presented 14 reservations. Sharon then proceeded with his unilateral disengagement from Gaza, in breach of the roadmap prohibition of unilateral actions.
After stating its opposition to unilateral action, the Bush administration, in what the New York Times described as â€œ a major shift of policy on the Middle East,â€ agreed to breach the roadmap and to support instead the Sharon plan.
The Bush administration further undermined the roadmap by agreeing to support Israeli construction of new settlements. (NYT August 21, 04)
Sharonâ€™s advisor Dov Weissglas described the real intent of the disengagement plan as â€œthe freezing of the political process. And when you freeze that process you prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state and you prevent a discussion about the refugees, the borders and Jerusalem.â€ This whole package of the roadmap â€ has been removed from our agenda indefinitely.â€ (Haaretz, Oct 8, 04)
The building of settlements and consolidation of existing ones has never stopped. According to the Israeli group Peace Now 12,000 new Jewish settlers moved into West Bank settlements in 2005, and construction of new settlements continues apace.
A report by the Israeli Human Rights group Bâ€™Tselem published in December 205, proves that the Israeli wall of separation, declared illegal by the International Court of Justice in July 2004, is intended for settlement expansion on the â€œIsraeliâ€ side of the Wall. The route of the Wall leaves â€œfifty-five settlements, twelve of them in East Jerusalem, separated from the rest of the West Bank and contiguous with the State of Israel.â€
When in frustration the Palestinian people elected Hamas earlier this year, the Bush administration and the Israeli government responded with a secret plan to destabilise the democratically elected Palestinian government. (NYT, Feb 14,06). In addition, the Olmert government, anxious to show continuity of the Sharon legacy of brute force, ordered an assault on the Jericho prison and humiliatingly seized some Palestinian prisoners.
Later it laid siege to Gaza to punish the Palestinians and force them, as Dov Weissglas advised, to go on â€œa dietâ€
This is not the behaviour of a government anxious for a negotiated peace settlement, or respectful of the human rights of their enemy, or the sanctity of international law and signed agreements.
Judging by the platforms of the leading contenders in the Israeli election and by the myopic support the Bush administration has given to breaches of the roadmap, the leadership required for a peaceful solution is likely as elusive as ever.
Professor Adel Safty is Unesco Chair of Leadership and President of the School of Government and Leadership, Bahcesehir University, Istanbul. He is author-editor of 14 books including From Camp David to the Gulf, and Leadership and Democracy, New York, 2004