Originally appeared in The Jerusalem Post on January 20, 1999
When the polls close in a few months, it is far from clear what
mandate the winner will have. Of the major candidates, we have
one who wants carte blanche, another whose soundbite platform
is internally inconsistent and a third who would not be facing
early elections if he had only followed what he has embraced,
once again, as his platform.
Does Amnon LipkinShahak have red lines? He claims he does, but
won't reveal them. Shahak's unstated motto, "Trust me,"
denies his supporters the opportunity to vote their views. Ehud
Barak is confusing. He advocates separation "we here, they
there" yet supports annexing the major settlement blocs
and keeping "United Jerusalem" intact.
Barak is equally vague on security issues relating to the Palestinians.
He trivializes the issue of illegal weapons missiles, cannons,
mines, etc. that the Palestinian Authority has and refuses to
dispose of, labeling it "a thousand rifles that Palestinians
may or may not have," insisting that the real security issue
is the nonconventional threat posed by Iran and Iraq.
Does he mean that as long as Yasser Arafat doesn't have a nuclear
device we shouldn't let Palestinian weapons get in the way of
Of course, in the democratic process the voters cast their ballots
for the closest available match which is rarely a perfect match
to their goals and ideals. Hopefully by Election Day, Barak
will clarify his program. But that would still leave us with the
Peres problem. Barak's spokesperson, Aliza Goren, told me that
if Barak is elected, Shimon Peres will be a minister. She assured
me that Peres would not work behind Barak's back. But given Peres's
track record, I tend to doubt this. And I am not alone.
A Gallup Poll commissioned by the Independent Media Review and
Analysis organization this week found that over half of adult
Israeli Jews believe that Peres would pursue his own program even
if it clashed with Barak's policies. Almost 44% of those who voted
for Peres in 1996 shared this view.
As for Netanyahu, he zigzags. He is now proud that he is building
on Har Homa, but the construction contracts stipulate that "the
manager is allowed to halt construction for governmental reasons."His
campaign slogan on territory is "Barak will hand over, the
Likud will keep" yet Netanyahu pushed through approval
of the Hebron withdrawal and pulled out from even more territory
after signing the Wye Memorandum.
Netanyahu speaks of "reciprocity" yet he left most of
Hebron before reciprocity was assured, and did it again this winter
when he termed the Palestinian handwave in Gaza a "PNC decision
to revoke the Palestinian charter." (It should be noted that
the Palestinians' own official news agency, WAFA, doesn't say
that there was a vote only a waving of hands.)
It would have been one thing if the "hand wave" had
truly been a watershed event. But it wasn't. Arafat still considers
violence to be a legitimate tool for pressuring Israel. The statements
of incitement continue; the only difference today is that a committee
meets to catalog them.
Wye was so ambiguous that this committee has yet to even agree
on what "incitement" is, let alone actually take measures
to stop it. And the incitement works, with a recent Palestinian
poll by the Center for Palestine Research and Studies finding
almost 53% of Palestinians supporting armed attacks against Israel.
The prime minister insists that his administration ensured the
security of the settlers in the Hebron Agreement, yet he concedes
that their security has been compromised by Palestinian violations.
But let's be fair. The withdrawals outlined by Wye, as bad as
they were, would probably not have brought the Netanyahu government
down. It was the serious uncertainty regarding his true agenda
that yielded the critical mass of opponents from his own camp.
Which brings us to MK Ze'ev (Benny) Begin, who at this time is
not considered a major candidate.
He certainly has a clear position on withdrawals he wants none
but is "Just Say No" enough? Does Begin plan, as his
detractors claim, to march back into Nablus and Gaza? Is he a
oneissue candidate? Far from it.
Begin told me this week that he would support maintaining the
ties and programs between Israel and the PA for the mutual benefit
of all. While Barak speaks of slashing the number of Palestinian
workers permitted within Israel, Begin sees Palestinian employment
as vital for the welfare of our neighbors criticizing the efficacy
of closure as a security measure.
The same goes for Palestinian access to Israeli hospitals, ports
and other services. But can Begin cut a deal with Arafat? Given
the declared "red lines" of the other candidates, Begin
notes, he is in good company. Insisting on a united Jerusalem
under Israeli sovereignty and the retention of major settlement
blocks Israeli demands unacceptable both to Arafat and the Clinton
administration puts Barak and Netanyahu in the same boat as
With one major difference. Begin would reach the impasse with
a stronger position on the ground and the diplomatic advantage
Dr. Aaron Lerner is the Director IMRA (Independent Media
Review & Analysis).