Jan 09 2006

2006-the year of hope

Published by at 5:09 am under Blogs


RAMALLAH, West Bank, Jan. 8 (UPI) — Political changes in Palestine and Israel, as well as changes in attitudes in both societies and in the international community, provide a rare glimmer of hope that important changes on the ground are a serious possibility.

Radical ideologies and individuals are being sidelined in favour of those representing the political centre, both in Israel and in Palestine. Israel’s hard-line Likud party now finds itself on the political fringe, after the exit of Ariel Sharon and several of his colleagues to escape the pressures of the Likud’s far-right central committee and form the centrist party Kadima. The ideology of Kadima has been left purposely vague in order to attract the largest numbers of voters. Its members include such ideologically opposed individuals as the hawkish defence minister Shaul Mofaz and the dovish Shimon Peres. Despite the health status of Israel’s long time leader Ariel Sharon, recent opinion polls suggest that the majority of Israelis support a centrist party. In fact an argument can be made that Sharon has done what was necessary in breaking up the stranglehold of the settlers and the central committee of the Likud on Israeli politics.

Over in the Palestinian camp, similar changes are taking place. The carpet is being pulled out from under most of the central committee of Fatah, with jailed Palestinian intifada leader Marwan Barghouti and his young shabab taking over from the old guard. While Mahmoud Abbas is still the elected president of Palestine and the leader of the Fatah movement, new leaders are forcing their way onto the political scene. The January 25th elections will certainly usher in new blood. It is expected that less than a handful of the existing members of the Palestinian Legislative Council will remain in parliament after the long-awaited elections.

It is not clear what tangible changes the new blood in the Palestinian leadership will bring. A statement from his Israeli jail cell gives a hint as to the priorities of the new leadership. Writing from behind bars, Marwan Barghouti apologized for the corruption that members of his party, Fatah, have committed in the past, and vowed that his era will witness a clean administration of the affairs of the Palestinian Authority.

The talk about a corruption-free administration comes from electoral pressure caused by the entry of the Islamic group Hamas in the elections. The impressive wins that Hamas has had in many Palestinian cities is credited to the fact that they have fielded or supported clean candidates who are expected to do a good job in serving their populations.

While the success of Hamas has worried many foreign countries, Palestinians don’t expect the Islamic group to win anything near a majority of the 134 seats of the second Palestinian Legislative Council. Palestinians differentiate between the domestic vote, which has to do with day to day services and national elections that will designate representatives for talks with Israelis and with the international community.

But regardless of how many seats Hamas will win and whether it will participate in the post election government, the Islamic movement has already hinted about its willingness to modify its charter and its political platform. The participation of Hamas in the government would have an even more important result, by requiring the militant movement to put aside its concentration on military options and it would provide it with the opportunity to channel its energies into the political arena.

On the international front, the earlier neoconservative ideological bend of the Bush administration seems to have been replaced by a more pragmatic policy aimed at putting out the fires that have been raging in the Middle East. However, this apparent pragmatism, seen mostly in Iraq where the U.S. has been encouraging Sunnis to participate in the political process, doesn’t seem to be as important to the US in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The recent visit of Condoleezza Rice to Jerusalem that resulted in the opening of the Rafah crossing will require a lot more follow-up.

If the current moves to the political centre and the pragmatic attitudes of all parties continue and intensify, 2006 has the potential of being a breakthrough year. This will require compromises that the parties have not shown willingness to make in the past. But political changes at the top of the political pyramids in Israel and Palestine promise to correct the idiosyncrasies that have produced policies and actions that do not reflect the aspirations of Palestinians and Israelis.

With radical ideologies being discarded in return for pragmatic policies, one hopes that 2006 will not only witness a considerable reduction in violence but will also see some genuine political breakthroughs that can put the region on the right track after years of turmoil and failed attempts at a historic reconciliation, peace and tranquillity.

(Daoud Kuttab is a Palestinian journalist and the director of the Institute of Modern Media at Al Quds University in Ramallah. This report has been made available to UPI by Common Ground News Service.)

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