On the day of Ariel Sharon’s massive stroke, the BBC devoted most of its newscasts to this breaking story. Among the many personalities interviewed was Meretz party leader Yossi Beilin. I was amazed at the ignorance and naivete of the BBC newsman talking to Beilin; after being appropriately solicitous in expressing his concern for the health of the prime minister, Beilin shocked the interviewer by indicating that even in his recent role as the initiator of disenagement and withdrawal, Sharon was not a dove. That Sharon never engaged the Palestinians in a genuine peace process seemed incredible to this so-called journalist.
Part of the legacy of Sharon’s unilateralism is that Hamas was elected in the first place. The stage was set for this election by Sharon’s failure to support Abbas as a partner for peace by releasing more prisoners and easing the lives of Palestinians suffering from severe restrictions on travel, losses of property, and settler violence and intimidation.
His successors at the helm of his Kadima (Forward) party are almost all more dovish. It was Ehud Olmert whose public statements first hinted at Sharon’s new policy direction. This formerly right-wing Likudnik may have been decisively influenced by his wife, a member of Meretz. He in turn may very well have influenced Sharon to the limited but important extent that he changed. His major co-leader in Kadima is Tzipi Livni, now both foreign and justice minister. We were informed by Gershon Baskin in November that Ms. Livni is similarly dovish. And there’s Shimon Peres, now also among Kadima’s leaders.
It is my hope that Kadima will form a majority coalition with Labor and Meretz after the March 28 elections to lead Israel to a decidedly more peaceful and better future. Hamas may be a formidable obstacle to such hopes, but not necessarily. As in all Israeli elections, however, the possibility of terrorist attack remains a wild card.