ישראל נאמן | Lectures, Articles, Tours: Israel | Mideast onTarget | Elliot Chodoff & Yisrael Ne'eman | Satisfying the American Patron 19.7.04

Satisfying the American Patron

19 July 2004

By Yisrael Ne'eman

Israelis are fond of declaring that “the Palestinians never missed an opportunity, to miss an opportunity” when it came to making peace. It is hard to believe that only four years ago Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasir Arafat and then Israeli PM Ehud Barak met at Camp David under American auspices to wrap up a deal, giving the Palestinians independence.

But no matter how much Barak offered, it failed. Today the Palestinians are mired in administrative anarchy with the Hamas, Islamic Jihad and pro and anti-Arafat factions squared off against each other in the Gaza Strip. Other local militias consist of extended families battling for turf. The situation in the West Bank is actually better, as the IDF has crushed most of those interested in insurrection. Paradoxically, the West Bank is considered under Israeli occupation while Gaza is not.

Only the left wing Meretz -Yahad politician, Yossi Beilin is screaming for Israel to make peace immediately, before it is too late. Today, very few care what is happening in the Palestinian Authority, and the faster the fence is built, the better. With a sharp drop in terror attacks inside Israel proper, the Palestinians are “out of sight and out of mind.” And that is exactly what Ariel Sharon prayed for all along.

But PM has his own problems. Trying to rule with a minority coalition (59 MKs in support of the government out of 120) in the Knesset is proving impossible. Arik has one major obligation to fulfill, and that is to his American patron, George Bush. He promised to implement the “two state solution” with the Palestinians, and he intends to do it without Yasir & Co. He needs a unilateral withdrawal and the hell with everyone and everything on the other side of the fence.

He will negotiate with any political party willing to join his coalition on condition that they support the Gaza disengagement even should it mean coming to terms with the ultra-orthodox Shas and United Torah Judaism (UTJ) factions. Sharon will pay out for the vested interests involved, despite the expected demands of massive government support for yeshivas and draft exemptions. He believes the ultra-orthodox opposition to the Gaza disengagement is tactical and can be bought off. The PM needs a majority in the government and Knesset.

The 16 ultra-orthodox seats are the swing vote. He knows for the most part he can depend on the Labor, Shinui and Meretz-Yahad parties with their 40 seats, whether they are in the government or opposition. In his own Likud faction, where opposition is rife to his Gaza plan, he should manage between 15-20 supporting votes. With the ultra-orthodox Sharon is hoping for a majority of 70 or so.

Chaos reigns in Gaza, not in Jerusalem. Israeli political parties may be scrambling, making demands and scattering threats, but it is all just so much bluster to gain the best coalition deal. Arik’s loyalties are neither to them, nor anyone in his Likud party, nor even to any once sacred ideology, but only to the promises he made to the Americans. In return he receives full US diplomatic and economic cooperation.

And that is much more than he will ever get from a coalition partner.