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Despite the apparent apathy of the electorate, the 2006 election results are nothing less than an ideological revolution. In effect, this very apathy itself implies a transformation and maturation of the nation's attitudes.
Heading into the elections, many factors appeared to influence the tone of advanced polling. Hamas's victory in the Palestinian Legislative Council elections and the unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, the continued Kassam attacks from Gaza and the Likud's intensive crusade against Ehud Olmert's plan for further withdrawal to permanent borders, which would demand an evacuation of most of the West Bank and the uprooting of many settlements, all seemed to play on the political sentiments of voters.
In the end, Israelis were swayed by neither Palestinian animosity nor by the Likud's fear campaign, and the citizens who cast votes gave a vast majority to those ready to relinquish, by agreement or unilaterally, most of the West Bank.
Even as it backs a plan with larger concessions than those outlined by the Oslo Accords, the majority created in the Knesset after these elections is far larger than the margin enjoyed by late prime minister Yitzhak Rabin. It seems that, after almost a century of bitter debates in our land - debates between those favoring the notion of Greater Israel and those favoring withdrawal from the occupied territories - the electorate has used these ballots to voice support for the latter.
Throughout its campaign, the Likud often claimed that these elections would be a referendum on Olmert's strategy for withdrawal from the West Bank. As predicted, a referendum was indeed cast, with the answer resoundingly in favor of this plan.
These results also highlight another essential change in the political landscape, that of an increased receptiveness to greater social empathy and justice, as advocated by Labor Party leader Amir Peretz.
Indeed, despite important trends toward a privatized and free market society, it is high time to close the socio-economic gap in our country. We must now hope that the directives charted by what may be termed the March Revolution will not remain merely campaign slogans and electoral passions, but will be further translated into a stable coalition and effective concrete policies.
These aspirations do not seem farfetched, as we can already see positive steps being taken in the form of Prime Minister-elect Olmert's direct invitation to Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas to begin active negotiations for peace.
Now that Israel has made a determined choice in favor of progress, we must hope for Arab cooperation. But, as is always true in transforming ideals into reality, we cannot simply expect reciprocity, but we must sincerely and actively work for it.
The writer is president of the Peres Center for Peace.
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