Well, the horsetrrading and back room dealing is finally over and for better or worse, the 16th Israeli Parliament has finally been convened. For those of you who just can't get enough of Israeli politics, (God Bless You, wherever you may be), here's a summary of who'll be in the Parliament:

The Likud: This is, of course, the main party in the Parliament, still essentially run by Ariel Sharon. It calls itself a center right parliament, and depending on whom you ask, it was either founded by guerillas or terrorists. It was considered a pariah party for the first 40 years of Israel's existence, when Israel was ruled by socialists. When they won their first election, Yitzchak Rabin very famously declared, "The pimps are coming to the house of government." What they're mainly known for, and what they're winning the election for, is being tough. Tough on the Palestinians, specifically. They're not particularly tough on the Mafia {many of whom seemed to have joined the party), and more corruption in the political and economic life of Israel can be expected. During the election, Shaul Mofaz, the former army chief of staff and the head man fighting the Intifada kept stating, soothingly, "This is not a war for sprinters, this is a war for marathon runners", probably in order to keep up the public spirit. The Palestinians have a word to describe their current state of mind, Sumoud, which means steadfast. Well, as their brother semites, they should realize that Israel can be Somoud too. With Likud in power, we can all be Sumoud into the cemetary, Arabs and Jews together, divided in their grief.

The second major member of the coalition is Shinui. I've already done a writeup on them, and I have little more to add. They are fiercely secular, and have an interesting "Arab" policy - aggressive conciliation with Arab citizens of Israel, harsh tactics with the Palestinians until the end of suicide bombings. During this next parliament, they will either screw up, and disappear as a political entity, (a very common fate for third parties in Israel - it looks like Shas, excluded from the coalition, is about to suffer a similar fate), or literally push Labor out of the way to become, effectively, the Israeli "center-left". Despite their stance on Palestine - no negotiations with Arafat - they are considered the most left of the coalition parties. In essence, claiming that Israel should negotiate with Arafat is political suicide since 90% of Israeli Jews blame Arafat for the current crises.

The National Religious Party. In most countries, any party with running ads which state: "Religion and the Army! Only the National Religious Party" would be running for the hills. In Israel, the NRP has managed to join the coalition together with Shinui, which is really the anti-religious party. This is because the NRP is ready to agree to the appeal of the Tal law, which exempts certain religious Jews from military service. This isn't surprising, since the NRP's power base is mainly religious Jews who also serve in the army. Hence the slogan. The NRP is really a Jewish version of Erdogan's party in Turkey, which is trying to harmonize a theoretically secular nation state with pasionately held religious beliefs. In addition, the head of the party, retired General Effy Eitam has said, many, many times, that "I will not let the Palestinians build a terror state next to our home. The Jewish people have one home, and we intend to watch over it." Their slogan in the election was "we're going to watch over our home". The Western press generally smears them as the settlers party, which isn't true. A small number of settlers probably voted for the NRP, but the main power base are ordinary religious Israelis who perform military services. Eitam is also not as concerned with Palestine as he is with a specific economic agenda - more state support for religious Jews who serve in the army, and the allied institutions - schools, especially - which support them.

Finally - and this both schocked and angered many people - the National Unity Party has entered the government. As usual, they will be given the Tourism ministry, where it is assumed they will do the least amount of damage. The NUP is openly anti-Arab, fiercely opposed to a Palestinian state and one of it's factions is openly calling for the expulsion of all Palestinians to Jordan. (Whether the Hashemite Kingdom wants them or not). The reason the entry of the NUP into the government suprised everyone is that Sharon already had a majority before he invited them into the government. However, this majority was very narrow - one seat. Now, the only party which can destroy the coalition if it withdraws is Shinui - if either one of the other two small parties withdraw, the coalition will hold.

I see. You're all a bunch of right wing bastards, aren't you?

Well, no. Oddly enough, the current mood in Israel is in favor of a peace agreement as soon as possible. Israel is worried about the implications of a war in Iraq especially if the US screws up the post-war scenario and leaves Iraq as another Muslim fundamentalist country. Everyone is also getting their gas masks out of the closet again. Our economy has been completely weaned from it's dependance on Palestinian labor, so the net effect of the Intifada is to scare off the tourists, scare off investors, scare people off from even taking a business trip to Israel, and in the current economic crises Israel is one of the hardest hit countries. So, you ask, if Israel wants peace, why has it just elected the most right wing government in the history of the country? First of all, if you're asking the question, you're clearly not from the Middle East where Machismo runs rampant and only the right wing parties ever really have the popular authority to make peace with one another. Second of all, most people in Israel do think that Sharon wants a peace agreement with the Palestinians, who are suffering enough to finally crack. The clampdown on the territories has caused 60% unemployment in Gaza and the West Bank, the Palestinians are not quite starving to death, but neither are any of them hitting FDA requirements, and the education system remains a thorough shambles. The idea is to make them suffer enough to break them, and the current government certainly intends to do that.

Aha! You admit it! Facsist Bastards!

Whoa, cowboy, hold on. The Palestinian strategy can be divided into two different divisions. 1. To commit outrageous acts of terrorism on Israeli soil in order to provoke an Israeli massacre of Palestinian civilians, thus outraging world opinion and brining in the UN to protect the Palestinians. This option, the Kosovo option, was clearly part of the Palestinian intention when the second Intifada was launched. This is probably the strategy of Arafat, Fatah, and most of whatever is left of the PLO 2. To exhaust the Israeli people and economy with constant attacks until they withdraw unilaterally, and then use Palestine as a base to destroy Israel. (The Southern Lebanon strategy). This is the openly stated aim of a bunch of different terrorist groups, including Hamas.

There really is no other reason for the suicide attacks. There would be no point to "non violent" resistance, since there's nothing to resist non violently to - the Palestinian Authority is already responsible for the government of most of the territories, with the Israeli Army swooping in and occupying various points mainly in the aftermath of terrorist attacks on Jews in Israel and Palestine. Sharon and company would be happy to go back to the "status quo" of the Oslo arrangements before Camp David, with a relatively well off economically Palestinian population purchasing lots of Israeli consumer goods and the PA responsible for all main government functions. No one in Israel wants or needs to keep the Palestinian population in bondage for any reason other than self defense. The exception are the "greater Israel" crowd, who everyone is pretty sick of among the Jewish population - there are a number of Holy Sites to Jews in Palestine that Israel would probably like to guarantee access to, but it can probably annex these and still allow for PA control of most of Palestine. So the harsh Israeli policy is mainly a reaction to an even harsher standpoint among the Palestinians. If a moderate Palestinian - Abu Mazen or Sari Nusseibah for instance - dropped certain Palestinian demands (mainly the right of return, which is probably fair in principle but in practice would mean that Israel would have to give citizenship to about 2 Million refugees who are committed to driving the Jews into the sea right after they get their blue passports with the Menorah on them) the government would probably fall, with certain Likud members, and probably Shinui defecting, and then Labor would either take over or a different government would be formed relatively quickly to take the Palestininas up on their offer. Lacking such a partner, curfews, beatings, heavy handed assisinations of top Hamas officials and military raids on the Israeli side - as well as suicide bombings, sniping infants from balconies, and random lynchings of Jews stupid enough to wander into Palestine, on the other end - will probably continue. On the negative side, there is no Palestinian with the moral authority amongst their own people to give up the right of return, except perhaps Arafat, who refuses to give the demand up. If there was such as a Palestinian, the right would probably make their life miserable in order to keep power. As far as the Israelis are concerned, accepting the right of return would be literal suicide, and will almost certainly never agree to it. Plenty of Sumoud on both sides.

I see. A Plague on Both Your Houses, then.

Well, yes. We know. Doesn't seem like this particular conflict is going to end soon, will it?

To quote that dead Wall Street Journal reporter, I am the Jew and the son of a Jew. Some people will therefore accuse me of pro-Jewish bias in this report. I plead guilty to the charge, somewhat - the Jewish cause is my own, and I am fiercely in favor of the survival of Israel a Jewish state. However, if anyone who is Palestinian wants to collaborate with me to write some of these nodes, I am more than happy to work with them, with the caveat that if their writing seems to be a harsh attack on everything Israeli then I will unleash the rhetoric on both sides as well, and that would probably bore the hell out of everybody - I would prefer a Palestinian collaborator, who sees the resolution to the conflict the same way I do - two different states, existing side by side, with clear differentiated borders and each side controlling their own holy sites in Jerusalem. After that, I am more than willing to argue over the details until the coming of the Messiah.

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