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An Election in Israel and New Peace Prospects in Middle East

Filed on October 29, 2008

The mid-term elections in Israel are being seen as a setback to the Middle East peace process. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni has been forced to call snap polls after her attempts to cobble a coalition of Kadima, Labour and other small players failed. Livni and her ally, the Labour Party of Ehud Barak, still stand a chance though.

In fact, there may be an opportunity in this crisis. According to latest opinion polls, Livni is ahead of former prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu from the Likud Party, an unabashed extremist who is all the more dangerous after being out of power for far too long.

The very fact that most Israelis see Livni, a so-called moderate despite her Mossad background, as a better choice to lead them should give the ruling Kadima Party and its leadership enough hope to continue their fight. It means the ordinary Israelis want peace and a final, honourable settlement with the Palestinians. Even a hardliner and veteran of many Arab-Israeli wars like Ariel Sharon, Livniís former boss, had woken up to this reality rather late in his political career. Evidently, Livni and her allies are aware of this reality too.

Letís hope she and her party return to power with a renewed mandate and commitment to resolve their historical business with the Palestinians and rest of the Arab world. So itís good in a way that she failed to keep her fragile alliance going after Olmert was booted out on corruption charges. She doesnít have to put up with the shenanigans of her troublesome allies and once elected she would be in a better position to make some apparently tough decisions and unpopular choices.

Letís hope a renewed mandate will give her more room and courage to take those bold but unavoidable steps that the Israeli leadership has to take to achieve lasting peace with the Palestinians. And letís hope she will be more serious and honest than Olmert and his numerous predecessors in delivering on the promises made to the Palestinians. Olmert, and before him, Sharon held endless meetings and talks with the Palestinian leadership that never went anywhere.

Now that thereís going to be a new man in the White House soon, a new leadership in Israel will hopefully make use of this historic opportunity. This past week, Israeli president Shimon Peres held talks with Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak seeking to revive the so-called Arab peace plan put forward by the Saudis in 2002. On the other hand, Israel and Syria have been in indirect talks for some time now. These are indeed positive signs and bode well for peace and stability in the region. Now it is up to the leaders in Israel, Washington and the Middle East how they exploit these prospects for peace. The world is waiting.


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