On the eve of the Israeli parliamentary elections, Ariel Sharon, head of the Lickud finds himself in need for his opponents in the Labor party and his Palestinian Authority enemies.
Tuesday January 28 is the elections day in Israel, which will not end up with surprises or unexpected results. The polls had indicated repeatedly that Sharon is going to have the lead with 30-35 seats for his Lickud party. The same polls clearly show that the Labor will have 18-20 seats at the 16th Knesset of Israel.
That leaves Sharon with a real dilemma, Sharon needs a stronger Labor party that is represented by more Knesset members, in order to form a strong coalition government, to enable him to fulfill his promise to embark on peace efforts. Close circles to Sharon hinted that Sharon urged his followers not to support the extreme right parties, because he has to exclude them from the coalition. Sharon does not want “opposition” to his future “peace proposals”.
The background for Sharon’s position is his promises to President Bush, to start discussing the American plan for peace in the Middle East after the elections. In fact, President Bush yielded to Sharon’s request to postpone the negotiations till after the Israeli elections, in spite of U.N., EU, and Russia’s objection on the 20th of December 2002.
On the other hand, Shron is facing another dilemma, concerning the “security” issue. Within the past two and a half years, Sharon could not fulfill his promises of crushing Palestinian resistance to occupation. In fact he failed, thus failing to fulfill his promise of guaranteeing security to Israelis.
This is driving (or should drive) Sharon to pave the way for reviewing his policies. However, on the eve of the elections Sharon gave orders to step up military brutal attacks against Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank. Sharon is paying close attention to the meetings held in Cairo, by Palestinian organizations to discuss a cease-operation agreement (cease-fire). But his face value of the Cairo meetings embodies another important value: That Yasser Arafat (the PA) is indispensable for the future formula on Peace in the Middle East to be discussed by the quartet (USA, UN, EU and Russia), with both Israeli and Palestinian.
So Sharon is supposed to try to solve his two folds dilemma: the Labor and the PA, as soon as possible, bearing in mind that there is no doubt about his close victory in the elections.
It is widely believed that he will be able to do so, if the American Administration acts firmly (in cooperation with the quartet), and demands an Israeli withdrawal form the Palestinian areas, in return for declared Palestinian cease-fire. That will allow the Palestinian to go to democratic elections. It is also widely believed that the Palestinians will re-elect Yasser Arafat, and Sharon will have to deal with him.
Bassam Abu-Sharif is a special advisor to Yasser Arafat.