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The shadow of Ariel Sharon hung over the election today in Israel which saw his Kadima party win its first contest, putting Ehud Olmert in charge and making Sharon's strategy of unilateral border establishment ascendant. In an election that drew an unsually low voter turnout, the ailing former leader's former party found itself struggling to keep from finishing fourth:
ISRAEL’S Prime Minister-elect last night offered to restart negotiations with the Palestinians, after exit polls showed his centrist Kadima party set to form the next government.
In a late-night victory speech Ehud Olmert spoke of a new chapter in Israel’s history, offering peace to its enemies and uniting internal divisions.
Just four months after the party was formed by Ariel Sharon – to whom Mr Olmert paid fulsome tribute – Kadima was predicted to win 28 seats after votes were counted in 50 per cent of polling stations, according to Israel Channel 10 Televison.
The centre-left Labour party came second, winning 20 seats, leaving Mr Olmert the possibility of heading a centre-left coalition with more than half of the Israeli parliament’s 120 seats.
In a major blow for Binyamin Netanyahu, the former prime minister and anointed heir to Mr Sharon until last year, his divided and bickering Likud Party was reduced to a right wing parliamentary rump, predicted to win just 12 seats.
Both the electoral results and the relatively low turnout (around 63%, which in the US would be a record) shows that the Israelis have given up on the hardliner approach to stand their ground wherever Israelis live. With the security wall showing a significant dampening effect on terrorist attacks, they apparently have decided that they want no part of the territories any longer. The nation has explicitly decided to abandon most of the settlements, a development that as recently as two years ago would have been almost unthinkable. Binyamin Netanyahu did not foresee the exhaustion of the Israelis, but Sharon did -- and he may have saved the Israeli center in politics as a result.
So what now? Olmert says he would rather negotiate for the ultimate decisions on borders and settlements, even parting with more Israeli land if necessary to find common ground with their enemy. Unfortunately, they claim far too much common ground for that to be practical. If Mahmoud Abbas could not sell a partition of Jerusalem, the lunatics of Hamas certainly won't -- and that's assuming that Olmert would offer it.
For the first time in years, though, Israel has finally found a way to simply disengage and leave the Palestinians to themselves. It will cost them in the short run, as the IDF will have to re-enact the evictions we saw in Gaza again and again as Israel pulls itself behind their wall. Hamas and the PA will threaten the Israelis, but the fact is that the IDF has built a strong defensive border, and further attacks on it will only force the Israelis to close it even tighter. That may impact the Israeli economy, but it will devastate the Palestinians, just as we see already in Gaza.
The Israelis have chosen a practical but painful strategy that gives them the best chance for their own survival as a democracy and a Jewish state. The lower turnout underscores the grim decision that faces their country, but the result confirms the wisdom and brilliance of the first of the hard-liners who dared to imagine another path to security.Sphere It View blog reactions
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