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amram mitzna

The Jerusalem Post asks, in an opinion piece, Why not Mitzna?

Why, when during the last Israeli election campaign, former Labor party leader Amram Mitzna proposed essentially the same “pull out and fence off” plan that Ariel Sharon’s government is pursuing now, was he so readily dismissed?

As Prime Minister Ariel Sharon reviewed his year in office in a Knesset speech last night, it was hard not to ask the question, have we not come full circle? In the last election, the now-forgotten Amram Mitzna proposed negotiating with the Palestinians, and if that did not work, unilaterally withdrawing behind the fence.

During the election campaign, the Labor party ran an advertisement accusing Sharon of not building the fence fast enough. The Likud responded with an ad featuring Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, who explained the dangers of Mitzna’s plan to withdraw unilaterally from much of the West Bank.

The article claims that it’s because Sharon’s vision is pragmatic while Mitzna’s was idealistic:

Plan B, however, is preferable to the status quo. And we would rather have Sharon implement it than Mitzna.

The reason is that what Israel needs most is consensus on its own red lines. Mitzna could never have redrawn the map the way Sharon is doing while maintaining a consensus, in part because the Left cannot quite shake its ideology that concessions will bring peace, in part because Mitzna would never have been able to gain the trust of the Right. Sharon is doing what Mitzna said he would do but for the opposite reason: drawing the most defensible (politically, demographically and militarily) lines because there is no Palestinian partner. The public will back a pragmatic withdrawal/retrenchment over a utopian one any day, and that consensus is itself critical to maintaining Israel’s strategic credibility.

I think that’s true. But I think it goes further than that.

The thing is, a leader distrusted by the majority of a population can’t sell the tough concessions. There’s a reason it was Menachem Begin – with his hardliner background and right-wing affiliation – who signed the peace treaty with Anwar El-Sadat. It’s the same reason that Ariel Sharon might be able to sell a Gaza pullout, while Mitzna would never have been able to do so.

Israelis are concerned first and foremost about their security. They won’t trust a leadership that they perceive as selling out their security for a worthless piece of paper. They may trust a leader who they perceive as taking steps in the interest of security.

That doesn’t make me any more enthusiastic about Sharon’s plan. But it does go a long way towards explaining why the Israelis have been voting for people like Sharon over people like Mitzna in these past few years.

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So who’s celebrating? Well, ironically, not Sharon. He knew he’d be re-elected. He’s not going to celebrate until he figures out how on earth to string together a coalition in this mess.

Amram Mitzna’s not celebrating too hard either. He gambled and opted to compete for votes on the Left instead of in the middle. Bad call, Mitzna. Sure, people like him and he’s charismatic . . . but nobody’s willing to entrust him with the security of the Israeli people any further than they could throw him. Besides, now he’s stuck with a promise not to join Likud in a unity government. I somehow suspect that he’ll be convinced to change his mind on that one in the next couple of weeks.

Sharansky and Sarid were both so disappointed with their parties’ respective performances that they resigned. Oh well, I guess that frees up Sharansky’s schedule a bit and maybe he can even come to Concordia. Yay . . . another riot to look forward to! As for Sarid, he had to realize that there’s only so many members of Peace Now who he can convince to come out and vote. And with Mitzna looking to the far left instead of to Labor’s traditionally centrist base for votes, Meretz lost a lot of ground.

The religious parties can’t be celebrating too hard either. Actually if there’s one bit of good news here, it’s the decline of seats for the ultra-religious parties. Shas lost a good amount of support. This is a bit strange, considering demographics. On the other hand, what was lost in sheer number may be gained in terms of leverage for the religious bloc, since if Sharon can’t convince Mitzna or Lapid to join a unity coalition, he’ll be forced to align himself with the religious parties to form a government. And they’ll demand their pound of flesh in return for support.

Tommy Lapid should be ecstatic with the rise in support for Shinui . . . but an offhand comment by Arafat about meeting with him and possibly having a chance for talks probably didn’t exactly make Lapid’s day. A compliment by Arafat is basically a kiss of death in Israeli politics, and it’s virtually guaranteed that Lapid’s popularity will suffer as a result.

Actually, the only one who should be thrilled here is Arafat.

Okay, I know that sounds crazy. Arafat has to say that he hates Likud and loves Labor. He even made a show of extending an olive branch to Sharon, knowing full well that there was no risk Sharon would actually accept, so it was a cost-free PR move.

But secretly this is the best possible outcome for Arafat. Because if a dovish government was voted in, and wanted to initiate talks, Arafat would have to bargain and make concessions and try to stop the terror. And he’s not ready to do that. So Likud being in power gives him an excuse to continue his hard line. In private, Arafat did a little victory dance last night.

The fact that Hamas regards Sharon’s re-election as a “blessing” should be enough to drive that point home.

Ironically, the only politician in Israel right now who potentially COULD give the Palestinians anything is Sharon. Mitzna couldn’t. Because the only way a deal will ever be negotiated is if the Israeli people are convinced that their security is a foremost concern. They don’t trust Mitzna to look out for their interests above the interests of the Palestinians. But they do trust Sharon.

What, if anything, can we learn from the election? Well, it’s simple: Just look at the number of parties compared to the number of people. The old joke about two Israelis having three opinions must have at least some truth to it.

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Israeli election results summary

01.29.2003

Montreal/Israel in Brief sent a special election mailing that contained this handy table summarizing the election results: Party Ideology Leader Seats ’99 Seats ’03 / change Center Right and Religious Bloc: . . . 67 Center- Right Parties . . . 46 Likud Possibility of Palestinian State – Violence must end. Ariel Sharon 19 37 […]

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Israeli election update

01.28.2003

According to exit polls, Likud is estimated to have won 34 seats in Knesset in today’s election, with Labor in second place at 18 seats. Shinui is in third place with 16 seats. More definitive results will probably take a few hours, as polls are closing any minute now and ballots need to be counted. […]

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