We at Meretz USA were crestfallen on Wednesday when Tuesday’s projections of five seats for Meretz shrank overnight to four. This would have represented a one-third cut in the Meretz Knesset caucus from the outgoing six; it would also have meant a corresponding one-third cut in government funding for the Meretz party’s operations. To confound this devastating loss is that it meant the personal loss of sitting MK Avshalom (Abu) Vilan, the fifth Meretz candidate — and a close friend who was a Mapam/Meretz shaliakh (representative) here in the early 1990s. He is also a frequent visitor and speaker for Meretz USA in New York.
But yesterday, Thursday, we had some good news. The count of the last one percent of the vote — non-resident votes from the military, diplomatic service, prisons and hospitals — affected the results: Kadima rose one to 29 and Meretz rose one to five. This gives the more dovish Zionist parties a majority of 61 (not counting three for the bi-nationalist Hadash and seven for the all-Arab parties). Olmert will want to pad this majority — probably with one or both of the ultra-Orthodox parties, neither of which are inherently hawkish. Shas, down from 13 to 12 with the final tally, has criticized Olmert for being unilateralist in his approach; they would support negotiations. The United Torah Judaism party doesn’t care that much either way.
Prime Minister Olmert has outlined what he wants — with or without negotiations — an evacuation of 70-80,000 settlers from in front of the security barrier to behind it, some give back in East Jerusalem, but also the development of E-1 to entirely cut off East Jerusalem from the West Bank and practically cut the West Bank into two.
If Abbas were more forceful in clamping down on the terrorist factions (in theory, he commands upwards of 50-60,000 security personnel), he might be able to negotiate better terms, but since he’s a weak leader — undermined both by a splintered and undisciplined Fatah movement (with terrorist elements) and facing an unknown quantity in the new Hamas government — it’s hard to see Abbas as being able to offer Olmert anything that would make him depart from his vision. It’s equally hard to see Olmert offering Abbas anything that might encourage Abbas to come to an agreement or at least cooperate more in security matters.
Stay tuned to this space for more on the elections, particularly some quirky and amusing facts.