Israeli and Palestinian political commentators are calling the recent Israeli election results a political ‘earthquake’. From what I can tell, they are using the term not because the results have caused any sort of catastrophic damage; but because they have seriously shaken up the Israeli political landscape.It seems strange to me that given the political uncertainty this election has created, representatives of the Canadian Government would come out with a black and white statement such as “not a red cent to Hamas”. Canada is only the second country, after Israel, to cut funding and ties with the PA.
Having won only 28 Knesset seats, Olmert’s Kadima party has been put in a position where it will have to make serious concessions and tread very carefully to form their coalition. The Labour party won 20 seats, giving Peretz significant leverage in the coalition negotiations. Haaretz quoted Peretz as stating he will “not join a coalition without receiving several socially oriented laws in return, ‘Because under no condition will we join a government if the social-welfare red lines are not clear.’”
After he was elected to lead the Labour party, Peretz was quoted as saying: “I see the occupation as an immoral act…I want to end the occupation not because of Palestinian pressure, but because I see it as an Israeli interest." During the election campaign, Peretz made it clear that he would negotiate with Abbas, but not with Hamas. Peretz is described as a “dove”, but as a BBC article pointed out, he is “untested on foreign policy matters.” So, ‘uncertain’ seems to be a useful word to describe the political situation in Israel right now.
It seems still much too early to know what the results of this political shake-up will be. However there are signs of change and compromise:
Immediately after being elected, Olmert stated: “We are ready to compromise, to give up parts of the beloved Land of Israel," Olmert said in remarks addressed to Abbas, "and evacuate – under great pain – Jews living there, in order to create the conditions that will enable you to fulfill your dream and live alongside us.”
Immediately after swearing in his cabinet, Prime Minsiter and Hamas member Ismail Haniyeh stated: “If the Authority chairman [Abbas], as the elected president, wants to get the negotiations moving, we have no objection to that. If what Abu Mazen [Abbas] presents to the people as a result of negotiations serves its interest, then we too will redefine our position.”
A Haaretz reporter noticed a shift in Israel’s approach to Hamas, when he noted: “Israel took a cautious line in responding to Haniyeh’s cabinet, in contrast to its belligerent stance following Hamas’ election victory two months ago. Sources in the defense establishment told Haaretz Wednesday night that the question of relations with the PA will be discussed Thursday at Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz’s weekly situation assessment with senior IDF and Shin Bet officials.”
This might be just talk and posturing, but it indicates very complex developments within and between both the Israeli government and the PA. This is likely the reason that governments around the globe are ‘hedging their bets’ and waiting to see how things look after the ‘dust’ settles.
Harper and the Conservative Government didn’t wait. They unequivocally stated that Canadians won’t fund a “terrorist” organization that refuses to “change”. This will undoubtedly be a shock for Palestinians and other governments around the world that look to Canada to play a mediating role in international relations.
Perhaps the Conservatives are trying to impress the American administration in advance of the upcoming summit in Mexico. Perhaps they want to appear to be taking a tough ‘stand’ against ‘terrorism’. Whatever the reason, they chose not to ‘wait and see’ and, in my opinion, have demonstrated a dangerous lack of diplomatic discretion.
Published by the International Middle East Media Center on Monday April 3, 2006
Elections 2006: Israeli earthquake, YnetNews, 29.03.06
‘Not a red cent to Hamas’, MacKay says, CBC, 30.03.06
Canada severs relations with ‘terrorist’ Palestinian government, The Canadian Press, 29.03.06
Rightist parties ask Peretz to join forces in Kadima-free gov’t, Haaretz, 30.03.06
Profile: Amir Peretz, BBC, 13.11.05
Arab League states unanimously reject unilateral Israeli measures, Haaretz, 30.03.06
Haniyeh says won’t oppose talks between PA head Abbas, Israel, Haaretz, 30.03.06