Ariel Sharon, Kadima and political change:
Can the Palestinians change too?

Published: 4 December 2005
Briefing Number 161

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Summary: By creating the new political party Kadima, Ariel Sharon has continued his dramatic transformation of Israeli politics. The current changes in Israel prompt the question – who will win Israel’s general election in March 2006? But an equally important question is - when will the Palestinians rethink their own ideas in equally dramatic fashion, in order to move towards resolving the conflict with Israel?  This Briefing highlights three of those ideas. 

Ariel Sharon, Kadima and change in Israeli politics
Israel is going through a period of dramatic political change.

Ariel Sharon, one of the co-founders of Israel’s Likud, has left the party after 33 years to form Kadima, to advance policies which he claims will achieve security for Israel, and enable the country to move towards peace.

Shimon Peres has left the Israeli Labour party after 60 years to join Sharon’s new party.  The Labour party has a new, populist leader, Amir Peretz.  Following Sharon’s departure the right-wing Likud party is struggling in the opinion polls.  Support for the centrist Shinui party continues to fall. And a general election has been called for 28 March 2006.

There are domestic economic and social factors driving the realignment of Israeli politics.  But its fundamental cause has been Sharon’s ideological rethink, and changing attitudes within mainstream Israeli society.  

Ariel Sharon expounds views which would have been unimaginable from him ten years ago, and confounds his critics internationally. Sharon advocates Palestinian statehood before domestic audiences, and the UN General Assembly. He has renounced Israel’s ambition to control the territory between the Jordan and the Mediterranean Sea, and has implemented complete withdrawal of Israel from the Gaza strip, uprooting Israeli citizens and communities.  He has indicated a readiness to make far-reaching future concessions, involving the West Bank.

These moves are controversial in Israel, and the cause of great bitterness and anguish among those who oppose them.  The creation of Kadima is the product of these moves.

Change in attitudes within mainstream Palestinian thinking….?

The changes in Israel reflect the democratic vitality of the country. They also prompt the question – is Palestinian society rethinking some of its own mainstream ideas and attitudes?  Here we highlight three:     

“All Palestinian refugees have the right to return to their original homes….”

This demand is based on a highly contentious definition of who is a refugee, and is incompatible with the continued existence of the state of Israel as a Jewish state. It denies that the Palestinian and Arab world has any responsibility for the creation of the Palestinian refugee problem, and is a formula guaranteed to perpetuate conflict  (see Briefing 34).  It is an unrealisable dream, rather than a pragmatic formula for resolving the conflict. 

At this time of major change within Israel, when will the Palestinians rethink their attitude about the ‘right of return’?   

“Israel must withdraw to the pre-1967 green line, and evacuate all West Bank settlements…”

This claim ignores Israeli claims that the territories are disputed, and that Israel has the right to settle (or, more accurately, resettle, there). It ignores the fact that UN Resolution 242 does not require Israeli withdrawal from “all” the territories. It ignores the fact that approximately 180,000 Israeli citizens live in these ‘settlements’, and their “dismantling” would result in a forced uprooting 25 times larger (in population terms) than Gaza disengagement.  And it ignores the physical reality that the vast majority of the settlers live in ‘settlement blocs’ in a small physical area of the West Bank. It is possible for Israel to retain the major settlement blocs, while withdrawing from the vast majority of the West Bank, and leaving the Palestinians to seek to run a viable Palestinian state. 

At this time of major change in Israel, when will the Palestinians rethink their demand for “total withdrawal” by Israel?

“Israel is not entitled to one inch of Palestine”

This is the doctrine of the Palestinian rejectionist groups. The Palestinian Authority claims to disagree with this idea, but it does not take steps to disarm the groups that expound these views, and it repeatedly adopts their arguments  as its own (for instances, that Israel is a racist state, that it is a coloniser, and that Zionism should be rethought).  This doctrine fuels suicide bombing and a culture of violence, and drives the demonisation of Israel. 

At this time of major change in Israel, when will the Palestinians take steps to uproot this rejectionist doctrine, and develop a culture of coexistence in its place?  (See Briefing 6).     

Some Related Beyond Images Briefings

Ariel’s speech at the Sharm el-Sheikh Summit (Briefing 133, January 2005)

Ariel Sharon, disengagement and the Palestinians (Briefing 127, Jan 2005)

The Palestinian Right of Return: Arguments Against (Briefing 34, October 2003)
Why settlements: Israeli arguments for and against?
(Briefing 25, July 2003)

Ariel Sharon – “unwilling to compromise”…..? (Briefing 32, May 2003)