Reprinted from The Jerusalem Post of January 27, 1999


Groping In The Fog

By Moshe Zak

The election campaign is in full swing. Officially, this is the result of the early­elections legislative initiative by opposition MKs Haim Ramon and Haim Oron, but it was actually sparked by the objections of many coalition members to the Wye Memorandum. The agreement cost Netanyahu his Knesset majority.

On the eve of the Wye conference, Netanyahu claimed that he was willing to take a political gamble and endanger his coalition's stability to achieve a good agreement with the Palestinians that would assure Israel's security. Netanyahu was relying on the safety net offered by Labor Party leaders to implement any agreement he would reach at Wye.

But after the agreement was reached, he soon discovered that he had fallen between the cracks; he had lost some votes of his coalition partners and the votes promised by the opposition. The Wye agreement hastened the coalition's internal disintegration, as rifts developed between those demanding its complete and immediate implementation, without conditioning it on the Palestinians' fulfilling their commitments, and those calling to totally abandon the Wye agreement. Yitzhak Mordechai led the former group; Benny Begin the latter.

Surprisingly, though, the Wye agreement has not yet become a central issue in the election campaign. In his letters to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Mordechai, US President Bill Clinton did not forget to rub in the importance of the Wye agreement and praise their part in achieving it. But the voters don't seem inclined to debate an outdated accord. After all, under the agreement, the negotiations on the permanent settlement should already have started. But the major parties' stances on the subject of the permanent settlement remain shrouded in mystery.

The elections are meant to be the ultimate opinion poll on all essential issues, great and small. But unfortunately, as we are bombarded, morning, noon, and night, with an increasing number of pre­election opinion polls, we lose the opportunity to make a precise assessment of the public's views, both on questions of religion and state and concerning relations with our neighbors.

When Ronni Milo first raised the centrist party standard, he sharply criticized the clericalization of our society. But when Yitzhak Mordechai was chosen as leader of the party, he not only went to pray at the Western Wall, but also went to kiss Rabbi Ovadia Yosef's hand. The new party acts like all the old parties; it is trying to be as variegated as possible, to make itself attractive to different groups of voters, religious and anti­religious alike.

Before the crisis that led to the elections, Netanyahu and Ehud Barak conducted talks about establishing a national­unity government. In the 10 secret sessions, agreements were reached on a number of diplomatic issues, including the Golan Heights question. The Labor Party claimed that there were no serious differences of opinion on territorial compromise on the Golan Heights. Now the center party comes along and says it wants to renew talks with the Syrians on the basis of territorial compromise. But the new party hasn't made it clear what it means by "compromise." Does it mean that it will refuse negotiations on the basis of a Syrian ultimatum for a full withdrawal to the shores of the Kinneret? It doesn't specify if we should refuse to conduct negotiations if the Syrians refuse any compromise.

MORE complicated are the solutions being proposed in Judea and Samaria. The Hebron and Wye agreements show that the Likud is also ready for territorial compromise. Both parties make withdrawal conditional on Israel's security needs. But both they and the center party are unable to define the parameters of these security needs. For example, do they refer only to the Etzion and Ariel blocs, or indicate also a firm stand against concessions in the Jordan Valley?

Before the negotiations on the permanent settlement, none of them will reveal a map of their fallback positions. They are only talking about their starting points in the negotiations. Concerning the extent of possible concessions there are differences of opinion, even within the party leaderships.

Only the NRP and Herut at one extreme, and the Communists and Arab parties at the other, have taken clear stands on territorial compromise. The other parties have obscured their positions, and none of them tells the voter what will happen if the Palestinians refuse to accept our generous offers and demand everything. So the public is unable to express its opinion on their manifestos. Their vague language also serves to conceal the differences of opinion in parties that act like supermarkets, selling a variety of conflicting positions.

Almost all the parties repeat the mantra of "united Jerusalem under eternal Israeli sovereignty." But none of them makes clear what will happen if Jerusalem becomes the only issue preventing the signing of a peace.

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