ISRAEL: RUSSIANS HAND SHARON VICTORY IN LOWEST ELECTION TURNOUT IN ISRAEL’S HISTORY

Russian is now the second language of Israel, as the numbers of immigrants swell to 20% of the population of the country. After having backed Barak at the last election, this time the Russian Jewish community backed General Ariel Sharon, the new Prime Minister. Representing the Likud Party, General Sharon gained 59.5% of the vote, against Ehud Barak’s 40.5% for the Labour Party. Sharon’s greatest task is now how to form a government. He has invited the Labour Party to form a government of unity to address the peace process once and for all. However, analysts doubt whether the Labour Party will form any coalition with Sharon after such a humiliating defeat. Nor is Sharon known for his political prowess, being hailed a brilliant general but, as so often when the military involves itself in politics, is connected with a number of “gaffes”. Sharon must remember that the number of abstentions was the highest ever in Israel’s history. An Arab Israeli source quoted it at around 60%, although this figure has yet to be confirmed. Most of the Arab Israeli community (13% of the population) boycotted the election. Accused by many conservative Israelis of being a “fifth column” within Israeli territory, these Arab Israelis are indignant. They are proud to be Israelis, Arab Israelis, and swear loyalty to the State of Israel, as created in 1948. The reaction from the Arab world has been prudent, Yasser Arafat’s PLO stating: “We respect the choice of the Israeli people and hope that the peace process is continued”. The Syrian News Agency, SANA, was more firm, stating that Syria continued to support a peace process which envisaged Israel handing back all the territories it has occupied since its constitution in 1948. Whether or not General Sharon can make much impact on Middle East politics depends on four factors : First, the willingness of traditional Israeli political players to create a valid and responsible government, policy against politics. Second, the internal support from the all-important Russian community. A fifth of the population is an enormous vote-swinger. Thirdly, the bonding between Sharon and the PLO, whose nominal leader is Arafat but whose common denominator has a much wider base. Lastly, the international community, which could decide to put pressure on Israel to respect UNO directives, pull out of occupied territories, cease to provoke the Arab population in the area and behave like a civilised, modern, first-world state. Unfortunately and lamentably, the behaviour of Israel in recent years has equalled that of the Fascist State of Nazi Germany, a nightmare for the Jewish race, understandably. However, to inflict on others the horrors that were inflicted on them is to perpetrate and prolong the evil. The international community is as guilty in this process as any of the players. Certain states are bombed for not following UNO directives. Others choose to systematically and flagrantly flout international law, UNO directives and the signing of a myriad of agreements and protocols, just because they feel they are protected. So long as these perpetrators of evil feel themselves protected, there will be no peace in the Middle East, the birthplace of the three most popular religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam – noble religions which abhor the use of violence and give value to respect for human values. Israel’s policies in recent years could not be further from this valid goal. As for General Sharon, the Middle East is a white page for him to write on.

TIMOTHY BANCROFT-HINCHEY PRAVDA.RU LISBON