November 28, 2005
Political Upheavals

I received the following from an American friend:


With all the political excitement going on, I am amazed at your silence. I
thought you would be sending out some commentary on the hour!!


As you may know, Ariel Sharon has left the Likud Party, and formed a new
organization, which he calls "Forward." This began with Amir Peretz's
victory over Shimon Peres in Labor Party primaries, and Peretz's insistence
that the government ministers in the party he now leads leave the government
and that there be an early national election. The election has been set for
March 28th.

Sharon says, understandably, that he is tired of fighting Likud Party
figures who keep after him for the disengagement from Gaza. He remains the
most widely supported politician in the country, and his new party is
polling to win 33-36 seats in the next Knesset. Labor under Peretz is
polling at about 10 seats less, and Likud about 10 seats less than Labor.

No other party has made a dent in the poll figures at this point, but all
are likely to be smaller. Which means that after the election it may take a
while to form a coalition government that commands a majority of the 120
seat Knesset, and whatever government emerges is not likely to be taking
dramatic steps under a strong leader who can command wide support in the
Cabinet and the Knesset.

Presently, Forward and Labor are seeking to entice leading figures to their
ranks. Forward gained a decent campaigner from Labor (Haim Ramon), and may
get at least the tacit support of Shimon Peres. Labor has picked up the
attractive and energetic president of Ben Gurion University. He is an
economist who tried to moderate Peretz's image by saying, "He is not a

Sharon seems to be running on moderate pragmatism (i.e., I can do it
better). Peretz asserts the need to help the weak. As head of the Labor
Federation, however, he was most active in helping the strong. These are
members of sea port, airport, electric company, and refinery workers'
unions, some of whom do better economically than physicians and professors.
Peretz did little for the workers of some poor local authorities who went
for over a year without receiving salaries.

At this point, Benyamin Netanyahu seems likely to emerge as the leader of
Likud. Some activists there are looking elsewhere in the hope of putting a
more attractive figure at the head of the ticket. They have tried the
current President of Israel, Moshe Katzav, who is a former Likud Member of
Knesset and lower-ranking minister. He is saying no.

It is a great time for political mavens who enjoy the sport of electoral
maneuverings. The party system has been shaken mightily, especially the
major parties. Insofar as parties are the principal creatures that produce
stability in politics, it is wisest to admit that we are at sea, and cannot
predict what will happen on March 28th and after.

Meanwhile, the Palestinians are also active, in advance of an election that
may occur in January. Their governing party is currently having its
primaries. The most prominent winner has been Marwan Bargouti, currently
serving five life sentences for involvement in the murder of Israelis.
Palestinians and some Israelis are demanding his release from jail so he can
serve the blossoming democracy, but I will not bet on that.

Ira Sharkansky

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 11:04 AM
November 17, 2005
Letter from Jerusalemite on the Road, November 13, 2005

It is almost enough to make me anti-American. A Reuters article quotes a “senior State Department official” who said that a "political bargaining period" in Israel could make it harder for the United States to push a peace agenda. "What we don't want here is to be kept in a holding pattern (because of domestic politics)."

At issue was a turnover in the leadership of the Labor Party. Shimon Peres lost a primary to Amir Peretz, and Peretz wants to pull Labor out of the coalition government and go to early national elections. Apparently, the American official fears for his or her road map to peace. It is a concept that is deeply flawed in any event, but obsession is obsession.

What about democracy in the only democracy in the Middle East? Moreover, the benighted Palestinians are stumbling toward elections in what is no less democratic a regime than any other Arab entity. Palestine is far from European, North American or Israeli in the quality of its democracy, but it is no worse than Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan and numerous others, and significantly better than Syria, Saudi Arabia and some others.

The domestic political commotions in both Israel and Palestine are going to delay progress on the road map, and the American official will have to wait. And when the elections and formations of governments are over, the road map may still be a path to nowhere. There is no sign that any Palestinian government or combination of moderate Arab governments will support the concessions likely to be on offer from Israel.

Power is power and democracy is democracy. The world is stuck with the economic and military power of the United States, and whatever government makes it through the maze of American politics. If it is a government that has gotten itself into a crusade for democracy in Iraq, and cannot dissociate itself at home from intelligent design, so much the worse for the rest of us.

In this trip I have encountered the unattractive combination of arrogance and ignorance. It is an image of America that is common in Europe, and heard even in America-dependent Israel. Those with a long memory may conclude that an American-centered world is better than the Roman Empire. We have come a long way through regimes usually worse than either Rome or the United States. Hopefully there is Paradise at the end, but none of us is likely to live long enough to get there.

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 01:48 PM
November 15, 2005
Letter from Jerusalem, Nov. 10

Rioting in France continues, but seemingly at a reduced pace. Three bombs killed 57 people in Amman. Our neighbors in Isaweea rioted at the gates of Hadassah-Mt Scopus Hospital. Shimon Peres has lost the leadership of the Labor Party.

We are following all of this from a family visit in the United States.

On the way to this stop I spoke to a small group of people, mostly right of center. One gave voice to the proposition that Iraq was a war pressed on the president by his Jewish advisors.

Politics is nothing if it is not dynamic. It is possible to construct explanations for what has happened until now. It is much riskier—intellectually—to speculate about what they mean for the near and distant future.

It is clear that our world is more than a bit muddy, chaotic, dangerous, and exciting. It may get worse before it gets better. More countries are going to have to face the issue of Islamic violence. For us, that is good; providing we do not get the blame. Sure, there were Jewish advisors who promoted the war in Iraq. But Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld are not Jewish. And they selected, and continued working with advisors who advocated the war.

The French and Germans may have been right about the whole enterprise. Saddam was contained. If the Europeans had their way, Iraq would probably not have become the nursery of ever more intense violence. But here we are. Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and some Jews led us deeper into the swamp. Even the French, as well as Jordanians, Indonesians, Egyptians, and Saudis are sharing in the price. Politics does not necessarily concern itself with justice in its distribution of burdens.

Shimon Peres' defeat may be nothing more than the vulnerability of an old man—with a reputation as a political loser—against a skillful campaigner. Politics moves on. There is no tenure. Ariel Sharon might be vulnerable to the same process. At least for the moment, however, he did away with Benyamin Netanyahu. There will be others, but not necessarily before the next election.

It may get better, perhaps after it gets a bit worse. The lovers of peace will have to contend with the realists before they get power. Lots of Muslims see themselves suffering from what their brethren are doing. There is at least a small reason for a bit of optimism. Just how that optimism may play itself out, and when, is beyond the reach of political insight.

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 05:31 PM