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Israeli Elections A Pyrrhic Victory For Sharon

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Gush Shalom
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International release

Jan. 29, 2003

It was hardly a surprise. Over the past month, opinion polls had persistently predicted that Sharon will get a renewed mandate despite the mess into which the country got under his leadership in the past two years. Still, counting the votes at a polling station in a Tel-Aviv suburb it was disheartening to see the pile of Likud voting slips becoming so much bigger than anything else. Later, sitting deep into the night in front of the TV screens, and seeing the results unfold, this picture was confrimed.

Labor's going back from 25 to 19 was foreseen but Meretz' fall from 10 to 6 was worse than expected. Hadash and Balad each conquered an extra seat, going up from 3 to 4, and from 2 to 3 respectively - against two less for the United Arab List which now will have two seats. As a total, a heavy blow for the peace camp. And it is hardly a consolation that the votes did not so much go to Likud as to Shinuy (which climbed from 6 to 15 seats). Shinuy succeeded to draw votes away from Labor and Meretz with its attack on the ultra- Orthodox as parasites. In these circles there is quite some frustration about the exemption from army service which Yeshiva students enjoy. But Shinuy has no political program and brings a lot of unexperienced people into the Knesset. Furthermore, it's leader, the populist Tommy Lapid, is not so far away from Sharon when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As an extraparliamentary peace group we have already wheathered storms and will continue to say loud what we have to say - whether it makes us popular or not.

Right now there is one new task for people like us: use all possible channels to strengthen the Labor Party's determination NOT to go into the government. A decimated but determined Labor Party in opposition may at least put the myth to an end that "the concensus is behind Sharon". This may invite - if not the United States - at least Europe to use its leverage in order to end the strangulation of the Palestinians.

Yoel Marcus - a generally liberal columnist whose fluctating posiitions can be read as a kind of barometer - shows in the following article that with this opinion we are right now not alone.

Ha'aretz, Jan. 29, 2003

A Pyrrhic victory

By Yoel Marcus A little bit of advice to Sharon's most loyal friends, advisers and supporters: Don't brag, don't dance on the rooftops, don't drink too much champagne. The election exercise could yet turn out to be Sharon's Pyrrhic victory. For those who don't know, the Greek King Epirus, beat the Romans but lost his army, and in the third century BCE, coined the phrase "another victory like this and we're lost."

Sharon beat Labor, which anyway was on the ropes, significantly increased the Likud's representation in the Knesset, but first and foremost, screwed himself. With the public turning right and the collapse of the peace process, he now faces the nightmare of a narrow, extremist government. He lost the respectability Labor gave him as a fig leaf for his policies of force. Peres defended him on his travels around the universe, while Fuad talked peace but did what Sharon wanted. It is difficult to understand how Sharon allowed Fuad to go for a handful of dollars that Ben-Eliezer needed to improve his standing in the Labor primaries. Sharon can ask himself what the early elections gave him, other than the fact instead of Peres, he might end up with Lieberman.Sharon will be prisoner of the extremist right.

A ruling by Rabbi Ovadia, that settlements can't be forsaken, guarantees Sharon a narrow extremist-Haredi government. America won't like that. With the friendship that has emerged between Sharon and Bush, America after Iraq will want a government that will negotiate over a Palestinian state and dismantling settlements. And while there's understanding for "Israel's right to defend itself," the elimination of Arafat, the wet dream of a right-wing government, will be a casus belli for America.

Sharon speaks passionately about a unity government but he doesn't know how he'll form it. Either he's counting on a split in Labor, or that it comes back without Mitzna. Or he's counting on Shinui, which is still a UFO, and it's still not clear if it's a bird or a plane. Or maybe he's counting on what looks like a dream - a government without Haredim.

But in every constellation, no matter how fantastic, Sharon is the victim of his recent past: his political failure on the diplomatic front, the security and economic crisis, which sowed despair in the public, is the gruel he'll have to eat in the first year of his second term. The salvation of Sharon Chapter 2, as a severely constrained prime minister despite his victory, could come from the war in Iraq, which might serve as an excuse for a broad emergency government.

Right now, the wise would advise Labor to hold on outside the government, and build itself up as an alternative. In any case, an extremist government won't last long. With the same passion the people wanted Sharon, they could want to get rid of him. Sharon's seen that before.

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