No matter how Israelis vote tomorrow, they will likely be voting for a future of insecurity and conflict. The three major political parties—the right-wing Likud, the “centrist” Kadima and the so-called left-wing Labor—have not offered them a genuine peace option.

Despite the talk of possible Israeli withdrawals from parts of the West Bank, a new consensus has emerged among these parties that East Jerusalem and Israeli settlement blocs in the West Bank should be annexed to Israel. This would violate international law, destroy the possibility of a viable Palestinian state and condemn the Middle East to ongoing strife.

All the public opinion polls suggest that the next prime minister will be the current acting prime minister, Ehud Olmert. He will continue the direction set by Ariel Sharon, who remains a substantial political presence despite being disabled by a coma since January. Building on the redeployment from the Gaza Strip last year, Olmert has proposed further unilateral measures to determine borders with the Palestinians by 2010.

The borders he envisions would roughly follow the separation barrier Israel continues to construct in the West Bank despite the 2004 ruling of the International Court of Justice that the structure is illegal and must be dismantled. The Jordan River will be Israel’s “security boundary” in the east. It is unclear how much of the West Bank would be annexed; estimates run from 30 percent to 58 percent.

The Palestinians will be permitted to call the barely contiguous and economically unviable territories Israel leaves to them a “state.” However, this entity will have few of the attributes normally associated with sovereign states.

Olmert’s recent campaign speeches have sought to mollify the vast majority of settlers who reside on lands he intends to annex. He has authorized construction of a police headquarters in the corridor linking Jerusalem to Ma’ale Adumim, a city of 30,000 about five miles to the east of Jerusalem, and has promised to construct 3,500 housing units in this corridor. This would effectively annex Ma’ale Adumim to Israel and surround East Jerusalem with Israeli-controlled territory.

The West Bank would be split in half, making a contiguous Palestinian state all but impossible. In a campaign speech at Ariel, a small city of 20,000 deep inside the West Bank, Olmert proclaimed, “The entire Ariel bloc is an integral part of the state of Israel and will remain so forever.”

The next day Israeli forces raided a Palestinian prison at Jericho on the grounds that the British and American monitors who supervised the incarceration of Palestinians accused of assassinating former ultra-hawkish minister Rehavam Ze’evi were withdrawn. The prison raid aggravated Israel’s already poor relations with President Mahmoud Abbas and all the other Palestinian political forces.

It was more an act of revenge than a contribution to Israeli security. But it enhanced Olmert’s domestic political standing. A public opinion poll released after the prison operation showed that Kadima would win 42 seats in Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, an increase of five over the previous week.

The prison raid is a concrete expression of the slogan developed by Sharon and his advisers in 2000: “To return territory and kill Arabs.” That is to say, the Israeli public likes leaders who show diplomatic moderation and military toughness. Olmert appears likely to follow this dictum.

The Israeli public sees a vote for Kadima as a vote for separation—a chance to be rid of the Palestinians once and for all. Israel may be able to impose its expanded borders unilaterally, just as it has imposed its 39-year military occupation of the Palestinians. But the cost will be chronic insecurity. These borders and this separation will be at the expense of the Palestinian people who show no sign of abandoning their homes and lands and forgoing their national aspirations to suit Israel.

The Israeli daily Ha’aretz reported that Israel’s “primary goal” after the elections will be to persuade the United States to agree to Israel’s permanent takeover of the three largest settlement blocs—Ma’ale Adumim, Ariel and Gush Etzion—in exchange for a unilateral withdrawal from outlying settlements.

The Bush administration and Congress would do all Israelis a favor by signaling now their firm rejection of this request. No Palestinian leader can agree to the map of the region that Israeli politicians are presenting their constituents. As Hanan Ashrawi, one of the most moderate Palestinian political figures, said, “Israel has to be put into touch with reality: that there are Palestinians; that there is international law. Unilateralism leads only to further conflict, violence and extremism.

How to cite this article:

Joel Beinin "The Conflict After Israel’s Elections," Middle East Report Online, March 27, 2006.

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