ישראל נאמן | Lectures, Articles, Tours: Israel | Mideast onTarget | Elliot Chodoff & Yisrael Ne'eman | Continuing Centrist Revolt? 1.6.04

Continuing Centrist Revolt?

01 June 2004

By Yisrael Ne'eman

Ariel Sharon has overwhelming public support for his Gaza disengagement plan (79%) despite the opposition in his own party and governing coalition. In January 2003, he was elected PM by convincing the political center of his sincerity in demanding a two-state solution to Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians. Sharon owes his premiership to the “people” and not to his Likud faction.

Two weeks ago pollsters posed the question of a broad based center party to the Israeli public and were surprised to find 50% would support such a venture. In theory, the arrangement included Sharon and Likud moderates, Shinui, Shimon Peres and most of Labor (not the left wing). Few felt Sharon would advocate moving towards such an alliance which involves splitting the Likud, Sharon’s party for over 30 years.

But Israel is on the verge of a major change, or “pregnant” as one commentator put it. Pragmatism is the order of the day, as ideologies continue to fade. Years ago, Labor Party socialism died, as did the power of the Histadrut labor union. The settlement movement (including its Redemptive messages) no longer has the support of the Israeli public as it did 20 years ago and over 3/4ths of the public is willing to tear down certain settlements if it means disengaging from the Palestinians. Most however, reject the almost loving, trusting coexistence expressed by the hard-line left which calls for a complete withdrawal to the 1967 borders and a partial disarmament by Israel. Expressed in the Geneva Understandings, such a perspective is derided by critics as a “secular Messianism”.

The Arab-Israel conflict is said to be about a century old. Bar Giora, the first Jewish defense organization was established in 1907 when the first Zionists realized they had no one to depend on except themselves. Since then Jewish nationalism developed into a state and the conflict became an overwhelming distraction on the way to nation building. Israel’s leaders and especially General Sharon dealt with the “distraction” more than the essence of consolidating a reborn Jewish people in its homeland.

Israel is at the end of one process and at the beginning of another, one of normalcy, pragmatism and domestic development as a Jewish and democratic state. It appears Sharon is willing to lead the centrist charge, bearing down against both Left and Right in an effort to stabilize a new reality.

Unless it is just brinkmanship, Sharon is determined to pass his “Disengagement Plan” in the government, and if not, possibly call elections. Forming a centrist alliance, he can go to the electorate with the promises given to him by President Bush, negating Palestinian refugee return and allowing Israel to keep certain West Bank (Judea and Samaria) settlement blocs. The PM himself, is forcing a government crisis (he may fire some right wing ministers) and the possible collapse of his own Likud faction, but he is undeterred.

Neither Shimon Peres (81) nor Ariel Sharon (76) are really interested in politics any longer, but rather in getting the job done in setting a new direction, one built on a broad consensus. And that may mean tearing apart the traditional Left and Right to build a new reality reflecting the centrist revolt sparked in the last elections.