Israeli politics is undergoing its most dramatic changes in 30 years. The realignment of parties and leaders is all the more remarkable because the latest developments -- Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's decision to leave the ruling Likud party, the defeat of Shimon Peres as the Labor party's chairman, and Labor's withdrawal from Sharon's grand coalition government -- were utterly unexpected. So it is all the more important to comprehend the significance of these changes for the future of Israel, the region, and the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Israel's political system is, to put it simply, coming to the end of its second era. From independence in 1948 until 1977, the Labor party was dominant, before giving way to an opposition coalition of conservative, nationalist, and centrist parties allied in the Likud bloc. Since then, the two parties have taken turns in power, sometimes in grand coalitions and often in partnership with smaller parties.
On the surface, party competition has been between "left" and "right," or "hawks" and "doves." The truth, of course, is more complex. Social class and economic issues, overshadowed by the persistence of more existential concerns -- physical security and the continued existence of the state -- have played a much less important role in Israel than in other societies.
Here, the political divide could be defined as "optimists" versus "pessimists." The former, as in Labor, believed that some day a force would emerge among Arabs and Palestinians ready to make peace on a reasonable basis; the latter, as in Likud, were more doubtful.
For years, the argument remained an abstraction, a debate over what might happen in the future, until the Oslo agreement with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in 1993 put the competing perspectives to the test. Since 2000, when PLO leader Yasser Arafat rejected a political settlement and instead launched a five-year war of terrorism, there have been few optimists left.
The subsequent intellectual realignment in Israel has given rise to a new national consensus. It is now generally accepted that, as the left has always insisted, Israel should be ready to withdraw from the West Bank and Gaza Strip and accept a Palestinian state in exchange for real peace. But it is also accepted that, as the right has always maintained, there is no partner ready to make real peace. In this context, Sharon gained two landslide election victories as a hardliner, but implemented a moderate policy, including a full withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.
This is where Israel stands today, facing a political upheaval fueled by two developments.
First, Sharon moved the Likud to the center, making it the hegemonic party, while destroying every stereotype about his personality, methods, and worldview. For the same reason, though, many within Likud view Sharon -- who helped found the party -- as a traitor. Sharon now needs to institutionalize his reforms, even if he now needs to establish another party to do so.
Second, the Labor party has proven politically bankrupt, with its only conceivable leader being the 82-year-old Shimon Peres and its anachronistic dovish optimism the source of much ridicule. As a result -- and helped by low voter turnout -- the party's leadership primary was won by Amir Peretz, an outsider and populist who wants to revitalize Labor by putting social and economic issues at the forefront, which means withdrawing from the national unity coalition with Likud.
Despite having to form a new party, Sharon will probably win the next election, which he has called for February. Peretz's strategy may draw voters from other parties on the left, but Labor will most likely lose centrist voters (and those for whom national security is paramount) to Sharon.
Paradoxically, all of this will mean both a great deal in principle and perhaps little in practice. With Sharon enjoying a strong public mandate for a moderate policy, Israel will be more ready than ever to make a deal with the Palestinians, Syria, and the Arab world in general for a comprehensive diplomatic solution to the conflict.
Yet, given the chaos and paralysis that increasingly characterize Palestinian politics, that opportunity will go untaken. The rising power of Hamas, which openly proclaims its strategy of increasing terrorism and its goal of destroying Israel, reinforces that trend.
The same can be said of Syria, whose hardline government is turning toward a dangerously adventurous militancy.
Sharon might decide on partial withdrawals and dismantling of settlements on the West Bank. But it is now widely recognized that such changes are a response to dim prospects of real progress toward peace. Holding onto territory as a bargaining chip makes less sense if there is no one with whom to bargain.
Instead, Israel will continue to prioritize its own security, strengthening its defenses against terrorism and consolidating control over the relatively small portions of the West Bank that it intends to claim as part of an eventual diplomatic settlement.
A byproduct of this strategy, combined with ongoing Palestinian attacks, has been growing international sympathy with Israel.
That, too, could continue if the current political realignment proves permanent, enabling Sharon to win over the center and even moderate left for his program.
Nothing is assured, of course. Sharon's threat to quit Likud could be mere posturing, the still popular Benjamin Netanyahu could emerge as a powerful rival on his right, and Peretz might yet shape Labor into a serious contender on his left.
Nevertheless, the national consensus has shifted, shaking all assumptions about Israeli politics. The February elections will put those assumptions to their severest test in decades.
Barry Rubin is director of the GLORIA Center at Israel's Interdisciplinary University and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs.
Copyright: Project Syndicate
China took advantage of the vacuum left behind when US carriers stayed out of the western Pacific Ocean due to COVID-19 outbreaks on several US Navy warships. The Chinese government is solidifying its hold on artificial islands in the South China Sea by moving in missiles and surveillance equipment, and formalizing its occupation by creating two municipal districts in the region under Hainan Island’s Sansha — Xisha District on Woody Island (Yongxing Island, 永興島) to administer the Paracel Islands (Xisha Islands, 西沙群島) and Nansha District on Fiery Cross Reef (Yongshu Reef, 永暑島) to administer the Spratly Islands (Nansha Islands, 南沙群島) —
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) yesterday wrapped up its annual party conference-cum-national decision-making forums in Beijing: the National People’s Congress (NPC) and National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), known colloquially as the “two meetings.” They are normally tightly choreographed affairs, designed to project an image of stability and unassailable strength, but several events leading up this month’s sessions provided strong indications that all is not well in the state of Denmark. The first sign of major discontent came in March, at the height of the COVID-19 crisis in China, when an article by real-estate tycoon Ren Zhiqiang
French firm DCI-DESCO in April won a bid to upgrade Taiwan’s Lafayette frigates, which has strained ties between China and France. In 1991, France sold Taiwan six Lafayette frigates and in 1992 sold it 60 Mirage 2000 fighter jets. To prevent arms sales between the nations, China negotiated an agreement with France and in 1994 in a joint statement, France promised that there would be no future arms sales to Taiwan. From China’s point of view, the DCI-DESCO deal constitutes a breach of the agreement, but the French stance is that it is not selling Taiwan new weapons, but instead providing a
Chung Yuan ChristiaN University is clearly in bed with the People’s Republic of China. This can be the only explanation why the school’s authorities have done their utmost to shield a student, who lodged a complaint against an associate professor, and then used thuggish tactics to compel the teacher to issue two separate apologies to China. The original complaint, filed by an unnamed Chinese student, was for remarks by associate professor Chao Ming-wei (招名威) during a class on the origin of COVID-19. A second complaint was filed by the same student after Chao, during an apology, stated that he was a