This peacenik's choice

naomi chazan 88 (photo credit: )
naomi chazan 88
(photo credit: )
The emergence of Kadima as the frontrunner in the upcoming elections has placed established parties on the defensive. The Likud, Shinui and even Labor will lose voters to the new electoral alliance consciously positioned at the center of the political spectrum. The temptation of a few veteran peace activists to follow suit is less easily explicable. For the vast majority of those who favor a just and sustainable peace, Ariel Sharon's party poses no dilemma at all. The attraction of the nascent (and purposely eclectic) electoral front for true doves is at best superficial and ephemeral. This appeal derives in part from the perception that Sharon, unlike any of his predecessors, succeeded in carrying out what many have preached. He dismantled settlements and withdrew from territories. If he did so in Gaza, the argument goes, he will also do the same in the West Bank. Past actions are not, however, always an accurate barometer of future measures; enthusiasts would do well to keep this in mind. Those who want to support the prime minister because of his achievements should also take a close look at all his recent actions. The present government is directly responsible for the ongoing expansion of settlements, the maintenance of illegal outposts, the construction of a decidedly political "security" barrier, the consolidation of Israel's hold on metropolitan Jerusalem, and the effective transformation of the West Bank into a series of non-contiguous enclaves. Under Sharon's aegis targeted killings, house demolitions and closures continue apace. Gaza is virtually isolated; its residents are incarcerated in abysmal poverty compounded by growing anarchy. This record is hardly one that should be applauded, let alone rewarded. Some self-styled leaders of the peace camp rest their move to Kadima on the (unverified) hope that Sharon, along with the new and old players who surround him, will continue to take unilateral steps that will ultimately lead to the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. In their eagerness to stress the real change in Sharon's policies, they fail to ask themselves what kind of a Palestine he envisages. A WEAK, truncated Palestinian state alongside Israel, excluding Jerusalem, is not a viable alternative at this juncture. Neither is a political entity which is thrust upon the Palestinians without negotiations and without an agreement which will lead to the resolution of the long-festering Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In today's political arena there are several parties - ranging from Labor and Meretz to the Democratic Choice and even Hadash - which represent what is by now the majority of Israelis who favor the resumption of final-status talks. Kadima and its leaders lack both the clarity of purpose and the firm dedication that exist in these quarters. Although the 2006 elections are first and foremost about deciding the permanent shape of Israel and the future character of its relations with its neighbors, other issues will undoubtedly impinge. Advocates of a fair settlement with the Palestinians cannot close their eyes to the widening socioeconomic discrepancies wrought by decades of distorted priorities. Neither can they ignore the ongoing inequities within the country between Arabs and Jews, men and women, newcomers and old-timers, and between Mizrahim and Ashkenazim. Hundreds of thousands of Israelis are denied the right to marry and create a family; violations of human rights persist. Sharon and his party, however, promise more of the same. Indeed, the issue of leadership, trumpeted as the main selling card of the new political agglomeration, is also its Achilles' heel. The resilience of Israel's democracy depends as much on adherence to the rules of the game and the integrity of its leaders as on their policies. To hinge the fate of the country and its citizens on any one individual, however robust, is - as the events of this week so dramatically highlight - a monumental mistake. The reordering of the political map in anticipation of the forthcoming elections is not only salubrious, it is vital. Nevertheless, the presentation of new and lucid choices should not cloud the judgment of the electorate. Kadima, despite its tender age, is a solid reality because it mirrors, in its makeup and outlook, the opinions of many Israelis. It does not, and cannot, replace the peace camp. If these elections are to have any meaning, then Israeli voters would be well-advised to avoid what they do all too often - try to outsmart the system, and by extension themselves. In curious, often bizarre, ways, they expend inordinate energy on finding ways to employ their vote to simultaneously weaken their political rivals, shore up faltering politicians, construct future coalitions, and even determine their composition. The strategic vote is consistently used and abused in this country. Perhaps for once, this round, voters would be wise to simply indicate their preference by casting their ballot for the party which best represents their worldviews. For this Israeli peacenik, the 2006 elections are not confusing at all. Ariel Sharon and his team are not an option. The choice lies between the parties to his left who can lead the country along a clear and honest path to greater peace, justice, democracy and human security. The writer, a political scientist, is a former Meretz MK.