7 January 2006


Sharon's Kadima .....Forward or Back ?

 Befor the massive stroke that ended his political career, Israel's Prime Minister Ariel Sharon abandon Likud to form the centrist kadima ( forward) party, which looked set to make a significant  impact on the March 2006 elections. However, with the demise of the old war hero, Sharon, whether  the new centrist party can go forward, or noy, remains uncertain. By  Adel Darwish.


The Israeli leader Ariel Sharon laid down the reins of power. Bidding farewell to the warrior-come-statesman who led Israel for the past five years, longer than any other Prime Minister in recent years, marks the end of a chapter in Israel's volatile history.


Many said how Sharon's military-come-political career symbolised the modern history of Israel; but his condition as described by doctors, also symbolised the political scene in Israel last month : 'Critical but stable'. Sharon's departure from  politics further complicate a political map, redrawn twice in the past few months by two political coups, on the left and right. First, when a Safardi trade unionist, Amir Peretz ended the Ashkenazi dominance of Labour party by beating  Israel respected elder statesman Shimon Peres to the leadership. Secondly, when Sharon himself abandoned Likud, the party he helped to create three decades before.  to form the centrist party Kadima drawn from the left of Likud and right of Labour.


Many fear Kadima (meaning let us go forward) might not survive the stormy political sea of Israel without Sharon on the bridge, especially that the party had not been registered or even issued a set of rules or membership cards when Sharon was taken ill. However, Sharon's footprints on the political road which he bulldozed last November seemed to be here to stay as observers agree that the steps he has taken are almost irreversible.


Those who know the region well are aware of political realities, which often differs from the mirage created by the region's  harsh climate. It is hard for non-Israelis, especially Palestinians to accept the notion that Sharon's demise will not be good for peace. And they have good reason too. Long before he acquired world notoriety for plotting the 1982 invasion of Lebanon, and his responsibility for the Lebanese Christian militia slaughtering Palestinian refugees, or his role as housing minister in 1990s in building of settlements (  proved to be the greatest folly in Israel's history) and his provocative visit to Dome of the Rock holy mosque triggering the second Intifadah,  Sharon was known as a  trigger happy super-hawk who lead ` retaliation raids' across the borders.


The Middle East history proved that  hawks, not doves, who made peace. This was the case  with Yitzhak Rabin and Menachem Begin before him. Only Sharon had the credentials, to slaughter the sacred cow of settlements, without fearing the kind of accusation that  caused Rabin's his life in the hands of a rightist assassin.


During the past five years, all spent in conflict with the Palestinians, Israel appeared to be swinging to the right. Public opinion endorsed Sharon's iron fist response to the Palestinian Intifadah; and a general approval of the security fence ( Palestinians condemned as ` apartheid wall'). The only difference between right and left was not whether , but ` where' it should be built. In short, Israeli public seemed to back a return to the earlier harsh Zionist doctrines of a nation forced to fight for its survival at any cost.


Overlooked the ` mirage' of Israel lurching to the right, Sharon formed his centrist party, Kadima, only to prove that Israeli public  moved to the centre and not to the right.


A poll published on the day Sharon was taken ill gave Kadima between 38-42 seats in the Knesset, with 13  ( down two) to Benjamin Netanyahu lead Likud and 18 ( down one) to Labour lead by Peretz.


During his term in office, Sharon only paid lip service to President George Bush's `road map' but didn't  implement Israel's side of the bargain, namely  freezing settlements. He thus was hailed by settlers from the religious right as their ` king' who would lead their Old Testamental `Jihad' to spread Zion's settlements from the River to the Sea. Sharon is not religious nor he has  any biblical ideological leaning, but a shrewd nationalist politician who saw his evolution as a statesman, and the security of his nation as one.

Half a century ago he joined Perez in a leftist party but moved to the right in 1973 to form Likud. Then  last November he left its poisonous wrangling to form Kadima, as he  appeared to turn his back on his earlier irredentist doctrine to move to a more pragmatic territories by accepting the notion of something closer to Labour's land for peace. What he called ` painful concessions' meant territorial concession in order to preserve his nation's status as a democratic Jewish state.

Settlements  were means to an end, namely security, which, Sharon  realised could be achieved by less costly means. ( see TME Jan 06 issue)


Although centrist parties history in Israel has not been a happy one,  Kadima story could be different as opinion polls suggest that Israeli public needed this centrist leadership for the new political re-alignment. It is an _expression of a mixture of Israelis' obsessive need of  security ( for a complex of reasons with a history of prosecution, extermination and oppression) and a  hope for achieving peace; a mixture the glimpse of which they saw in Sharon's actions.


Next month [ March] election would put this analysis to the test, while it could be determined by reactions from the Palestinian side. A surge in violence and suicide bombing in 1996 moved Israelis to elect a Likud lead by Netanyahu which reversed the peace process. But many agree that Sharon has set an irreversible precedent when he dismantled Gaza settlement, ordering the army to confront Israel's Ayatollahs and their version of Jewish Jihadism.


When Sharon was once compared to the late Yasser Arafat as neither had a strategy for tomorrow, but improvised as he fought on; he dismissed it telling us if his friends and allies were kept in the dark about his long term strategy, there was little chance of his enemies finding out about his plans.

This explains how  non of his supporters or allies in the hardliners' camp had a chance to catch a glimpse of the cards he held very close to his chest.


It is too early to measure the momentum created by Sharon's Gaza pull out and the destruction of settlements there;  perhaps future historians might have the chance to digest it in full. Even his critics, at home and abroad, who dismissed the Gaza pull out as a tactical move to enable Israel to strengthen its hold on the West bank, are now agreeing that the move has already created a new political reality in Israel. No politician from the main stream parties, including Likud which objected to the pull-out, would contemplate re-occupying  Gaza settlements one day. Equally no politician  seeking election would even suggest increasing settlements in the West-bank.


The main attraction to politicians from the right and the left who joined Kadima, was Sharon's new strategy: Replacing expansion( as means of placing defence lines away from Israel's heartland) with re-entrenchment. Speak to any Israeli analyst or main stream politicians, and you realise that the new doctrine has become a national consensus for the foreseeable future. Even Sharon's traditional enemies on the left have no choice but to go along with this strategy. They believe that a new government where Kadima is the larger partner, would take this strategy to its next logical conclusion, by resuming negotiations with the Palestinians.


However, Sharon had no time for those on the left calling for negotiations with the Palestinians at any price, in order to end violence and suicide bombing.


He won Israeli public opinion - and large section of that in the west- that he had no partner for peace on the Palestinian side, and continued to say so even after Arafat's death.


Although Sharon's critics argue that his harsh actions against the Palestinians made his analysis  self-fulfilling by undermining the Palestinian leadership's ability to have full control of its region. However, the breakdown of law and order in Gaza in post Israel's withdrawal, with gang warfare, kidnapping, and even attacking Egyptian border guards, also point to the inadequacy of Mahmoud Abbas's leadership.


There are many more among Israeli left today, who endorse Sharon's analysis of 2004 when he decided to go for a unilateral plan in the absence of a credible partner. Many are even calling for regrouping behind a defined borders, and keep the Palestinians out. Such plan was favoured by the acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert when he was still the Mayor of Jerusalem and lined up with Sharon against the then Likud Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu ( who, the Americans discovered, had no intention of implementing the White House endorsed Oslo accords signed by his predecessor Rabin in 1993) . Olmert  spoke out in favour of replacing the road map with unilateralism during a briefing in London before Mr Sharon announced the Gaza disengagement.


Olmert's  strategy then, and probably still is, to maximise the number of Jews in Israeli-controlled areas and minimise the number of  Palestinians there.

He always argued for segregation in order to reduce the daily contacts and the points of friction which lead to fighting, retaliations, and an endless cycle of violence. Olmert, however, was no record saying  he doesn't accept return to 1967 borders, and it is not clear whether  the ` line ' he wanted to draw then to keep maximum number of Jews behind, has become more flexible with the  new realities in Israel.


Two months is a long time in politics, thus  all depends whether Kadima will remain cohesive until the election. The question is who would be the face to lead the new centrist party, as Sharon had not been declared officially incapacitated as we went to print. 


Kadima problems is on several tiers,  it has no clear doctrine,  no obvious leader, and contains an unstable mix of ambitious rivals from a wide political spectrum ( there is an old saying that EVERY one in Israel wants to be as prime minister).

As  a mix of centrists and rightists Labour and Likud leftists defectors Kadima  will struggle to agree on  a leader who balances delectability ( set by Sharon as security and peace), competence and what is left of their own old loyalties. A lesser-known compromise candidate is hard to find, let alone making him known to the electorate, while uniting them all behind a new leaders is even harder, with a danger that some may drift back to their old parties.


Olmert has a good record as a Mayor, thus experienced (30 years, or  half his life as a politician), he is the closest to Sharon's latest message,  decisive, tough and a  unilateralist on the peace issue. He would represent continuity, analysts say, despite voters' disliking. But he can wrap himself further in  Sharon's colours, as  Polls gave Kadima 40 Knesset seats prediction under his leadership.


Tzipi Livni, the justice minister, is popular across the spectrum for her honesty, but lacks political weight, as polls gave her only 38 seats win as a leader.


Labour highest ranking defector Peres, has statesmanship and is respected world wide and trusted by the Palestinians, polls gave Kadima the highest number of seats ( 42) under his leadership. But he is regarded in Israel's political folklore as a record breaking loser who never once lead a party to win an election.


Thus, Kadima leadership is praying for a medical miracle leaving Sharon with enough understanding of how to smile to the cameras as he nods endorsing Kadima's new leader during the election campaign.


Copyright © Adel Darwish & Mideastnews and its parent company World Media UK Limited 2006. All rights reserved. No part of this site may be reproduced or transmitted in any form by any means or used for any business purpose without the written consent of the publisher. Whilst every effort has been made to ensure that the information contained herein is as accurate as possible, the publisher cannot accept responsibility for any consequences arising from its use. 

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