But Israelis are looking to what comes after Election Day on Jan. 28.
Jewish Telegraphic Agency
replace him with Binyamin Netanyahu, who is seen
as more hawkish.
But there is a rival theory on the left. Despite the
fact that the campaign has been short on sub-
stance, left-wing pundits see the new peace talk
from the Sharon camp as a late pitch to voters. The
aim, these skeptics say, is to win over floating cen-
trist voters and, after the election, entice Labor to
join his coalition.
Yet these skeptics argue that Sharon is congeni-
tally incapable of making peace: He is too attached
to the settlements he helped found, and his trun-
cated vision of Palestinian statehood will find few
takers on the other side, they say.
"Sharon," one pundit wrote, "is incapable, psy-
chologically and politically, of even starting negoti-
he Israel election campaign winding to a
close this week should have been about
which party has the best plan to extri-
cate Israel from the current cycle of
Palestinian terror and economic decline.
Instead, it focused almost exclusively on sleaze in
the political system and corruption allegations
against the leading players, especially Prime
Minister Ariel Sharon.
But the core issues aren't about to go away, and
the way the next government handles the
Palestinian dilemma will determine the reality
Israelis will live with for years to come.
Polls show that most of the public seems to
prefer Labor Party Chairman Amram Mitzna's
ideas for separation from the Palestinians as the
key to security and economic regeneration —
but they don't really trust Mitzna to do it.
With substance largely shunted aside, the
campaign has boiled down to a choice between
youth and experience. Mitzna, the political neo-
.phyte, is facing Sharon the seasoned campaign-
er, who may be tainted by scandal but who has
proven himself capable of steering the state.
Given Israel's recent experience with novices
who swept into office with big ideas but who
accomplished little, voters are leaning toward
the Likud Party and Sharon, the father figure
who projects a more reassuring and protective
The irony, pundits have noted, is that the
public seems to want a right-of-center prime
minister — to carry out left-wing policies.
With the Jan. 28 vote only days away, Sharon, Labor Party Chairman
74, seems virtually assured of a second term,
and pundits already are asking what he intends
to do differently this time around.
Whether Sharon has adopted peacemaking as a
strategy, or whether he merely talks of it to buy
time and make political gains, could prove to be
the most important question in the election after-
The word from his inner circle is that this time
math. And Sharon could be put to the test very
Sharon is determined to make peace with the
soon, depending on events in the Persian Gulf.
Palestinians. He wants to go down in history, they
Much will depend on what happens after the
say, as an "Israeli de Gaulle" — a general who, in
American-led war on Iraq. Top U.S.
the twilight of his career, made peace with the peo-
intimating that one of the first orders
ple he spent most of his life fighting.
the post-Saddam era will be a serious
Aides say that's why Sharon so wants Labor in
U.S.-led attempt to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian
his coalition. And, they say, that's why he has set
up a team under Dan Meridor that has begun
Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz sug-
secret talks with Palestinian leaders — aside from
gested that after Iraq, the United States quickly Will
Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat, whom
turn its attention to curbing Israeli settlement
Sharon continues to shun.
Secretary of State Colin Powell said the
Such whispers have right wingers so worried that
intends to push ahead vigorously
settler leaders like Elyakim Haetzni are calling on
with a peace "road map" — which calls for full
the Likud to dump Sharon, "the new leftist," and
Palestinian statehood within three years — being
developed by the diplomatic "Quartet" of the
United States, United Nations, European Union
In Israel, opinion is divided on how much effort the
Bush administration will be prepared to invest on
the Israeli-Palestinian track. On the left, Danny
Yatom, a former Mossad chief and key policy adviser
to former Prime Minister Ehud Barak, is convinced
that the United States will achieve its goals in Iraq
and then exploit the favorable regional conditions to
force througli an Israeli-Palestinian agreement.
"I think the Americans will be far firmer with the
parties and won't allow them to drag their feet," he
says. The United States might even try to impose
a solution on the two sides, Yatom says.
On the right, Uzi Arad, a former deputy
Mossad chief and top policy adviser to
Netanyahu, argues that the situation is far more
complex. The Americans will have so many
other things on their plate in the post-Saddam
era that they will only turn to the Israeli-
Palestinian issue if and when they think the par-
ties are ready, Arad says.
In this view, the Bush administration will put
its resources and prestige on the line only "if
they identify tangible chances of success" — and
that, Arad believes, could be a long way off.
How Sharon responds to a new American ini-
tiative, and whether the Americans view the situ-
ation optimistically, will depend to a great extent
on the coalition Sharon is able to put together.
A narrow coalition with right-wing and reli-
gious parties would effectively prohibit peace
moves. And unless Labor relents and joins a
unity government — or Shinui relents and agrees
to sit with the Orthodox — a narrow, right wing-
religious coalition is all Sharon would have.
Partly to pave the way for a national unity govern-
ment, a handful of Mitzna's opponents within Labor
have been pressing to replace him with Shimon
Peres as the party's prime ministerial candidate. That
comes after a poll in the Mdariv newspaper predict-
ed that Labor would win another 10 seats — and
possibly take the election — if the more experienced
Peres were party leader.
A switch at this late hour is unlikely, especially
since Peres says he backs Mitzna. But pundits see the
affair as the first attempt by other Laborites to erode
Mitzna's standing after the election and chip away at
his refusal to enter a national unity government.
If Labor does go in, Sharon may come through as
the peacemaker his aides say he wants to be. If not,
he and Israel may have to wait until the election
after this one — when someone other than Sharon
might become prime minister. ❑