Tuesday, January 10, 2006



I’d like to mail these reflections as soon as possible. For many of my pieces tend to be critical. This time I’m writing to express my admiration for the maturity of the Israeli public, even its politicians. Sharon’s illness has shown up the country at its best. Judging by global media attention, it has also reminded us how significant Israel has become in the world, not only when there’s a war.
Except for some fringe groups, the population is showing great empathy for the family of Ariel Sharon. Though a good many members of the public react like the British do when royalty is in trouble and rush with flowers and letters to the hospital and to his farm, the reaction by public figures has been responsible and measured. People show great respect for Sharon’s leadership skills without necessarily recanting their opposition to his actions, past and present.
Many see him as a kind of incarnation of Ben Gurion, Israel’s first Prime Minister. Others speak of him as Israel’s De Gaulle, the man who changed his views dramatically because he deemed it to be in the best interest of his country.
The country remains very stable. The stability is reflected in the polls. They don’t suggest major shifts in anticipated voting patterns. Sharon’s Kadima party, even under Olmert, is holding its own.
But things may change in the weeks to come. It may emerge that Sharon’s disappearance from the political arena (which is now taken for granted) will benefit Netanyahu. He, too, has so far behaved in an exemplary fashion by keeping a low profile and not making any critical statements. He even reversed his decision and let the Likud ministers stay in the government as a manifestation of responsibility and solidarity.
The party that could have made great gains is Labour – had it elected Peres as its leader instead of defeating him with a narrow majority in favour of Peretz. Olmert, on behalf of Kadima, is wooing Peres, for he’s worth many votes, and he seems to be responding positively. Labour has probably lost its chances as far as Peres is concerned. But all such speculations are muted at present.
Other muted speculations concern the future of Israeli-Palestinian relations. A view that makes sense to me is that very little will change, irrespective of who is Prime Minister, because (a) no leader of Israel will be able to resist Israeli public opinion – which remains largely in favour of a peace settlement – and (b) United States pressure, which has a great interest in bringing the conflict to some kind of resolution, irrespective of who succeeds George W. Bush as President of the United States.
The real changes need to take place in the realm of social policy, but that’s not likely to happen, unless Labour does well enough to become a strong coalition partner in the next government. So far, market forces are stronger than socialist passions.
Ultimately – despite all the talk about Sharon’s charisma – most people here believe that political issues are not determined by individuals. General consensus will win the day. It’s currently reflected in (1) empathy with Sharon and his family, (2) a determination not to squander opportunities for peace, (3) pursuit of current policies in all fields, especially in the realm of security.
This very bad time for the country has also shown up Israel at its best. Even when I’m critical, I feel hugely privileged to be here. How much more so now!
Jerusalem 8.1.06 Dow Marmur

[Dr Philip Bliss

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