Analysis: Likud vote challenges Bush policy

  • From: "Muslim-News" <editor_@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: <submit@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Tue, 14 May 2002 08:56:17 +0100

 Sharon and Netanyahu
Hardliners may prefer Netanyahu (right) to Sharon

The vote of the central committee of the Likud party in Israel to oppose
the creation of a Palestinian state contradicts the vision of President
Bush in which an Israeli and a Palestinian state exist side by side. 

A piece of the complex jigsaw which the Americans and others are trying
to put together to get peace talks restarted suddenly doesn't fit. 

The vote also contradicted the views of the party leader, Prime Minister
Ariel Sharon. 

In September last year, he spoke about a Palestinian state. The
hardliners have now outflanked him and want all talk of that to stop. 

Vote complication 

Their vision is much narrower - of a compliant or cowed Palestinian
entity with self-government but no statehood. These hardliners would
prefer the former Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to be the party
leader in the next Israeli elections. 

Ariel Sharon: Less room for manoeuvre

For them, the man seen by much of the outside world as the hammer of the
Palestinians (going back to the Gaza Strip after the war of 1967) is too

The vote will complicate American efforts, as even Mr Sharon will find
less room for manoeuvre - and his instinct, both as general and
politician, is to manoeuvre. But the sad thing is that meaningful peace
talks are so far away that the Likud vote probably won't make much

There will be talk but not much decision. Ariel Sharon is hardly
pressing for a Palestinian state anyway. 

His policy has been security- not diplomacy-based - to crush Palestinian
resistance and try to build up a more co-operative Palestinian structure
as a way of by-passing Yasser Arafat. 

But Washington will make the best of a bad job and will still try. 

The hope is that a certain exhaustion has set in on both sides and that
steps to calm the conflict can be taken. The end of the siege of the
Nativity Church in Bethlehem was a start. 

Security forces 

The cancellation, or postponement, of Israel's operation in Gaza
following the snooker hall explosion is a further relaxation of tension.
All that, of course, can change in a split second shoudl there be any
more suicide bombs. 

American policy-makers might decide simply to ignore the Likud bit of
the jigsaw which does not fit and work on other parts of the board. 

The CIA Director George Tenet is likely to go back to the region soon to
talk about co-operation between security forces. 

There seems to be a new willingness in the Palestinian Authority to
oppose suicide bombs against Israeli civilians. 

American efforts will continue to try to convene an international
conference, though nobody yet agrees on what such a conference should
aim for. 

The Arabs want a clear commitment and timetable for a Palestinian state.
If Mr Sharon follows the Likud line, then that approach, indeed the
whole idea of a conference, might get nowhere. 

'Arafat plus' 

It is all desperate stuff and more like crisis management than conflict
resolution. Perhaps that is the best diplomats can aim for. 

One other piece of the puzzle, though, is proving to fit and gives long
term hope. 

An Arab summit between Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Syria saw further
acceptance of the Saudi plan for a settlement with Israel. 

Ironically, the conflict betwen Israelis and Palestinians has been at
its most intense at a time when opinion in the Arab world has swung in
favour of an agreement with Israel. 

It is likely that the United States, supported by the Europeans, will
use this new support to develop a so called "Arafat plus" policy. 

This would deprive Yasser Arafat of his lone voice to determine the
Palestinian position and see him surrounded by Arab governments giving
him encouragement and cover to reach an agreement. 

Look for more of that in days and weeks to come. 

But an agreement needs two sides. And just as the Arab states seem to be
softening, Likud is hardening.


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