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Sharon's Stroke and Israeli politics


Juan Cole has a guest post from Mark Levine on the situation in Isreal following Sharon's stroke. There is an interesting passage which I would like to highlight;

Yet while it is true that with Sharon gone his new party Kedima will likely lose out to a Netanyahu led Likud party, no matter who wins the upcoming Israeli or Palestinian elections the end of the Sharon era will in fact have little impact on the peace process.

This is because for all intents and purposes the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is over, and Israel has won, decisively. Indeed, since the beginning of the 1990s the whole point of the Oslo peace process, followed by the the low intensity war that began in September 2000, have been to convince and then compel Palestinians to accept that not even their most minimal demands will be met, whether through negotiations or violence. Regardless of who has been prime minister during this period--Rabin, Peres, Netanyahu, Barak or Sharon--Israel's negotiating strategy and final positions have changed little, which is why Palestinians soured on Oslo long before the al-Aqsa intifada erupted in 2000.

I have never really considered the Arab-Isreali conflict in this way before, it always seemed that the war was an ongoing thing. A fact which was easy to digest and accept, the point that much of the conflict is done on Isreali terms and most actions taken unilaterally by Isrealis certainly supports Levine's view that the conflict has been decisevly won by Isreal, the Palestinians have yet to accept that.

It always seemed that the ultimate conclusion to this conflict was still up for grabs not necessarily through violence but certainly through concerted effort and discussion. The fact that Isreal has won a war that still goes on suggests some serious problems in the psychology of the politicians in the region, Levine continues;

Yet while Israel has crushed the intifada, it has not crushed Palestinian society to the point that it will accept a political agreement based on these red lines. Therefore, we can expect that the conflict will continue to cycle between periods of violence and negotiation while Israel strengthens its "facts on the ground" and Palestinians search for new strategies to prevent Israeli red lines from becoming their realities. As for the US, it will continue to back Israel, thereby ensuring the status quo of the last five years continues, while Palestinian society slides slowly but surely into increasing chaos.

The view suggested by Levine is that the structure is in place whereby Isreal has secured victory and is now fighting for the crushing of an opponent into submission. The actions of the Palestinians are tied by the structural constraints which grant the power to Isreal in most relations. This structure is bedded down in a culture of violence which is the only means to securing a conclusion in the eyes of both sides.

The only possibility for a more positive outcome requires actors to influence and change the dominant culture and strucutral narrative of Isreali/
Arab conflict. It seems that such men and women are few on the ground, hope suggests that Sharon's gestures toward some peace may leave some more inclined to work toward a different path to peace. The new labour leader has been quoted as being bold in this department.

Im not sure that the Labour party is in any position to change the entire narrative of Isreali politics and I personally doubt that the new lad will get a shot after the election. So in bedding down a culture of violence and shutting down certain solutions, both sides have wedded the conflict to an inevitably bloody conclusion.

Its an interesting point, certainly when one moves away from what we feel ought be achieved and what is genuinely open and on the table. The facts on the ground were won along time ago and indeed seeing these as the victory in the conflict makes honest to goodness sense, what is being fought is a rearguard action by the Palestinians against a depressing sense of historical inevitability.

That the substantive power to alter the facts on the ground are now a movement onto themselves almost independent of all but the most extreme PM it seems the argument that little can change in the short term in Isreali politics. In this sense Sharon's legacy is at its strongest. The motion toward peace on Isreali terms and dictated by the power to alter the 'facts on the ground'a battle long since won, suggests a structural legacy far in excess of a personal one.

My own response to such structural arguments is always a healthy amount of scepticism, traditional debate around structural answers points to the determinist attitude therein. There is still scope on both sides for the actions of individual politicians to alter the current dynamic, however the emergence of such a figure from either side is not the most likely outcome. The possible return of Netenyahu suggests a cementing of the most extreme parts of the Isreali victory while casting easily aside Sharons tentative commitments to a moderate means of doing business.

The role also of the security agencies and thier position within the popular psyche cannot be underestimated, to my mind Sharons removal leaves the Isreali body politic bereft of a figure which holds security pedigree in their eyes. In order for the next leader to have anywhere near as big an influence, blessing from the security forces is necessary, such a blessing will always come at a price.

Perhaps a little simplistic but his argument that the current narrative dominant in Isreali politics is deep rooted in the culture, with one or two slight exceptions seems to me to be quite apt. The prospect for a peace which is acceptable to both sides is diminished in such an environment where certain outcomes are off limits and tactics cemented into the routine. Sharon will be missed or not in equal extreme, I am not sure where to stand on that front, however his attempt to moderate through the center a party a political culture which was in danger of cementing an extreme perspective is a project that may get usurped and unfinished.

Update: This had been in motion before Richard got mad with us, still we aim to please.

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  1. Blogger P O'Neill | 7:51 p.m. |  

    This issue of whether Israel has already won is very interesting. Consider in particular what was on offer in 1947 versus the de facto situation now.

  2. Blogger EWI | 8:42 p.m. |  

    Leaving aside the substance of the post, just *what* is that thing at the top of it?

  3. Blogger Cian | 10:36 p.m. |  

    do you mean the update, or what exactly was attacked? Im a little unsure.
    I was going to post on it but yourself and fiona fot there first.

  4. Blogger Cian | 1:59 a.m. |  

    P, It interesting indeed since winning is effectively being able to change the facts on the ground as one wishes. Certainly territorialy and in other ways, the war and disparity of strength has rewarded israel above all others.

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