Don't Panic! January 29 2003

Your war questions answered

What will be the outcome of Israel's elections, and what impact will it have on the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians?

By the time you read this, Israel's general elections, scheduled for Jan. 28, will have already taken place. Of course, if you're Johns Ashcroft or Poindexter you might have my computer bugged, in which case you'll be able to read this before the election. That's a subject for another column though.

Back to Israel. I'm going to go ahead now and make a bold prediction about the elections. Are you ready? I predict that the prime minister's office will be won by a Jewish candidate. I also predict that Jews will dominate the Israeli Knesset (aka Parliament). I don't just predict it. I guarantee it.

I know what you're thinking. "How can Andisheh be so sure?" I can't reveal my sources. As a journalist, I'm ethically bound not to. I'm not done yet either. I still have more predictions, but I won't be giving you my Men's Wearhouse guarantee on these though.

Prediction: Ariel Sharon wins. His party, the Likud, won't win a parliamentary majority, but big ol' Ariel is a hamentashen-eatin' shoo-in for another term as prime minister. How exactly is it that a leader whose tenure has coincided with violence, economic downturn, a corruption scandal and general despair is getting rewarded by voters? (And no, I'm not talking about our country.). It's because the alternatives appeal to Israelis even less.

The next most popular candidate is Labor Party leader Amram Mitzna. He wants to immediately open negotiations with Palestinians again. If they fail, he wants to unilaterally withdraw from Gaza and build a wall between the West Bank and Israel. Israelis love the wall thing, but the idea of negotiating with Palestinians while suicide bombings are still happening is about as popular as a ham sandwich at a yeshiva.

Prediction: Right-wing parties will gain more power. The leftwing vs. rightwing debate in Israel is mainly about what to do with the land that Israel captured in 1967. The left wants to exchange the land for peace treaties with Arabs. The right wants to keep it because ... Vot? Do you think parting the Red Sea and wandering the desert was easy?

The two-year-long Palestinian uprising, which followed the collapse of peace talks, has brought unprecedented violence upon Israelis. Lots of Palestinians are rooting for Labor because, if peace negotiations start up again, the Palestinians are unlikely to get nearly as much out of Sharon as they were offered by Labor Prime Minister Ehud Barak back in 2000. With Israelis angered over the suicide bombings, however, they're not in much of a "land for peace" mood.

Labor, the largest party in the current parliament, will shrink to a distant second, possibly even third. What will impact have? Unfortunately, not a lot. The miserable status quo will likely remain. That means that the cycle of violence between Palestinians and Israelis will continue.

Another prediction: The war on Iraq will have a much bigger impact on Israelis and Palestinians than Israel's election. A Saddam-less, more pro-western, non-weapons-o'-mass- destruction-wieldin' Iraq probably would be a help to peace in Israel. Directly, it's one fewer benefactor of terrorists (Saddam throws bling-bling at the families of Palestinian bombers). Indirectly, it strengthens Israel vis-a-vis the Arab world, given the right leadership here, in Israel, and among Arabs, could give Israelis the chutzpah to try another land for peace deal.

Of course, if Israelis re-elect Sharon, he's likely to squander any such opportunity. What else is new in the Middle East?


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