JERUSALEM (Feb. 28)
The jubilation that greeted the allied victory over Iraq when a cease-fire was announced Thursday hardly masked the deep divisions in Israel that have solidified during six months of crisis and six weeks of war in the region.
The nation is polarized between political hawks and doves, who remain firmly entrenched in their respective ideological turfs, waiting for the inevitable diplomatic challenges ahead.
While imminent pressure from Washington is not expected, the Bush administration is bound to exercise its newly acquired power and prestige in the region in the role of peacemaker, and possibly peace enforcer.
For some in the political community, this could be bad news. Likud hard-liner Ariel Sharon, currently minister of housing, has called for the immediate annexation of those areas of the administered territories inhabited by Jewish settlers.
Minister of Science and Energy Yuval Ne’eman of Tehiya, Likud’s coalition partner to its right, warned ominously of tough battles ahead with the United States over “Eretz Yisrael,” or “Greater Israel,” meaning the country with all the Arab-populated territories it administers.
On the left side of the divide, the prospect of vigorous American involvement in local diplomacy is welcomed.
Even among left-wing politicians, there is a keen awareness that the Palestine Liberation Organization probably is finished as a negotiating partner acceptable to either the Americans or Israelis, because of its blatant support for Saddam Hussein from the outset of the Gulf crisis.
AN AIR OF CALM
Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir radiated an air of calm confidence Thursday, according to sources close to him.
He sent a warm message of congratulations to President Bush on his victory in the Gulf. He also issued a statement urging that the cease-fire arrangements dispose of any residual Scud threat to Israel and deal with what remains of Iraq’s capability to stockpile non-conventional weapons.
Asked about the looming diplomatic process, Shamir gave the impression he expects it to be long and slow, with no dramatic breakthroughs.
But more activist positions have been articulated within both Labor and Likud.
In the Labor camp, former Energy Minister Moshe Shahal, a self-declared candidate for party leadership, spoke out in favor of a Palestinian state in confederation with Jordan.
Of more immediate political consequence is the newly emerging moderation of Foreign Minister David Levy, who until recently was among the toughest of Likud hard-liners.
Levy has asserted several times in recent days that Israel should be ready to negotiate with the selfsame Palestinians who cheered from their rooftops whenever a Scud missile hit Tel Aviv.
Levy, like Shamir, has challenged the Arab states to enter into direct negotiations with Israel. Unlike Shamir, he is urging an active Israeli “peace initiative” to coincide with the end of the Gulf war.
The foreign minister wants to revive the May 1989 proposals of the Shamir-led Likud-Labor unity government, calling for Palestinian elections in the territories, a period of autonomy and negotiations with the elected Palestinian representatives on the territories’ final status.
Significantly, Shamir and Levy — as opposed to Sharon, Ne’eman and other hard-liners — have spoken frequently in recent days of preserving the stability of King Hussein’s regime in neighboring Jordan.
Notwithstanding Hussein’s vocal support for Saddam Hussein of Iraq before and during the war, the Jordanian ruler has been signaling Israel that he wants to take a more active role in peace talks, senior Labor Party sources here said.
Laborites differ from the government in their assessment of a recent report by the German foreign minister, Hans-Dietrich Genscher, that President Hafez Assad of Syria is prepared to talk peace with Israel if the Palestinian issue is on the agenda.
Laborites stress Assad’s willingness to talk, a departure from his previous positions. Likud stresses his condition.
Despite the predictable political rhetoric, there is a sense among observers here that something deep has stirred the public mood and sentiment in the country.
No polls are available and no specific questions have been formulated to test the feeling that the war has affected the country’s outlook on basic political and security considerations.
There is a profound sense that America, two decades after its Vietnam trauma, is reasserting its global power against the backdrop of a dramatic decline of Soviet power and influence.
What this means, in terms of evolving Israeli public opinion on the eve of a major American effort to advance the peace process, remains to be seen. Much depends on how Bush, and particularly Secretary of State James Baker, present themselves and their objectives to the Israeli people.