It is election season in both Palestine and Israel, and this time change could be on the horizon. Hopefully, a new dynamic can be created as a result, because the last few years of stagnation on both sides have been of use to nobody.
Most in need of change is Israel. There, the transformation of the Labor party back into a real opposition party was the reason for the earlier-than-scheduled elections, and with the Likud party split there might just be serious competition that could lead to real change in the composition of the Israeli government. In light of the sitting government’s record over the past four years and the negative effect it has had on the possibility of resuming peace negotiations, the importance of such a change can hardly be overstated.
This Likud-led government has pursued two strategies that have simply served to maintain confrontations and make remote any possibility of resuming negotiations. The first strategy is the use of massive force at any and all opportunity, taking full advantage of Israel’s overwhelming military superiority. The second is the unilateral strategy, whereby Israel has been imposing its will on the ground in various guises, not limited to the disengagement from Gaza but including the building of the wall and the expansion of settlements in the West Bank.
In Palestine, elections might allow for a breakthrough in maintaining law and order and increasing the Palestinian Authority’s ability to better ensure success in fulfilling obligations on the political and security levels. Including opposition groups within the political system should ensure that everybody respects the law of the majority and the rights of the minority. It should also increase the ability of the PA to prevent any attempts at breaking the ceasefire.
In fact the elections in Palestine, including as they do the Islamic opposition, should serve to strengthen not only the PA, but also the peace camp. This election is taking place within the framework of the Oslo agreement. The more inclusive such an election is, the more comprehensive the acceptance of the vision of Oslo. That was not the case in the only previous legislative elections, and must be counted as a step forward for the peace camp.
Thus, with the potential for real and progressive change on both sides, there is a chance for both a resumption of and a breakthrough in negotiations. But this will depend on the willingness of the international community to take up the gauntlet. The sides, as has been seen before, need the help of the international community, not only in coaxing them into negotiating, but, perhaps more importantly, to bridge the gap in confidence between them. In addition, and by the US in particular, serious pressure must be brought to bear on Israel to cease its settlement- and wall-building in the West Bank, as these constitute long-term and serious impediments to any chance of grasping the opportunity that imminent political change might bring.