Decision time in Israel

BY THE time this is published, the Israeli voters would have chosen their next leader. Few elections in the Jewish state’s history have been as epoch-making as this vote. The decision of the Israeli voters will not only have ramifications for Israel but also have crucial implications for the Palestinian people and the Middle East peace process.

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Published: Wed 29 Mar 2006, 9:29 AM

Last updated: Sat 4 Apr 2015, 5:18 PM

In all likelihood, Ehud Olmert, the acting prime minister will step into the shoes of Ariel Sharon, who lies blissfully unaware of the changes that have taken place since he went into coma nearly three months ago. It is doubtful if Olmert will be able to fill his mentor’s big shoes. However, what is almost a certainty is the progress of the process triggered off by Sharon. In the run-up to the poll, Sharon’s successor repeatedly sent out the message that he intended to carry forward the unilateral withdrawal from the Palestinian Territories. While maintaining the belligerent rhetoric, so characteristic of Sharon, the Israeli leader emphasised he would evacuate from some more Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

Which is most welcome. Even the most rabid sections of Israeli public opinion are beginning to come around to Sharon’s argument that Israel will have to dismantle illegal Jewish settlements, especially those that came into being after the 1967 war, in its ‘larger, long-term interests’. However, while the Israeli withdrawal from the Palestinian and Arab land is welcome and necessary for lasting peace in the Middle East, the so-called withdrawal cannot be unilateral. Israel cannot unilaterally determine its borders without resolving the issue with the Palestinians. Any one-sided moves on this count are not going to bring peace to the Middle East. In fact, they will only end up further complicating the Palestinian-Israel conflict.

Whoever gets the mandate in Israel must make use of this historic opportunity to contribute to lasting peace in the Middle East. The Palestinians have given their mandate to a new leadership, Hamas, in the hope that the Islamists would succeed where their predecessors failed. The Palestinians as well as the Israelis want their leaders to settle this long festering business and achieve permanent peace and stability.

Despite the strident posturing of the Israeli Right and Hamas, which is in the process of forming the Palestinian government, if any one can resolve this complex and vexing issue, it is this generation of leaders. The hawks on both sides can and must do business with each other. They have got the mandate as well as political courage to take bold and path-breaking decisions without worrying excessively about consequences. It is time for the international peace quartet on the Middle East, comprising UN, US, EU and Russia, to move in. They must help and push the two sides to return to the negotiating table. There cannot be a better time or opportunity for peace.

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