Public opinion is the torch
How did it happen that, on the very eve of the Israeli elections, the former Likud members now known as Kadima and the heads of the Labor Party are taking the Palestinian partner out of their closets and even speaking out loud about dividing Jerusalem?
How did it happen that, on the very eve of the Israeli elections, the former Likud members now known as Kadima and the heads of the Labor Party are taking the Palestinian partner out of their closets and even speaking out loud about dividing Jerusalem? Was it just by chance that, after 38 years of occupation, Ariel Sharon suddenly understood that it is impossible to forcibly rule over another people and learned to read the demographic meter?
Even in normal times, politicians check the temperature carefully before they jump in the water with new tidings. And that is all the more true at election time. It is therefore reasonable to assume that had they thought their voters would be upset by slogans such as Olmert/Peretz "will divide Jerusalem," they would have revived the mantra of "Israel's eternal capital."
Each party naturally takes its own constituency into account. The Likud is careful not to tread on the settlers' toes, Labor tries not to upset the unions, and Meretz is careful to guard the interests of the kibbutzim. Only Kadima is free of the fear of specific political or economic sectors. The party is too new and too big to give expression to narrow, antiquated interests. Its human cocktail and its lack of institutions, primaries and reserved slots has turned Israeli public opinion as a whole into Kadima's reference group.
Dov Weissglas, a close associate of the party's founder, said in an interview with Haaretz in October 2004 that public opinion was one of the key factors that pushed Sharon to leave Gaza. And that in turn opened the way for him to leave Likud. Weissglas mentioned the Geneva Initiative and letters from officers and pilots who refused to serve in the territories. "These are not weird youngsters with green ponytails and nose rings surrounded by a heavy odor of grass," he said. "These are people like [reserve pilot] Spector's group. Truly the best of our youth."
In other words, Sharon reached the conclusion that opposition to perpetuating the occupation and support for a diplomatic initiative had spread beyond the narrow circles of the left. He identified the public's movement into areas that just a few years earlier had been considered the preserve of Peace Now. Instead of swimming against the current, as he did during the Lebanon War, Sharon gave the appearance of joining it. He rescinded his objections to dismantling settlements and building the separation fence. Kadima is reaping the fruits of these moves. But in order to preserve the abundance that has fallen in its lap, Kadima will have to water and cultivate large swaths of the political map.
The sizable public of Kadima supporters will thus have a unique opportunity to influence the government in the coming years. A host of surveys show that this public, which likes to call itself "the center," is actually located in the heart of the left: A majority of Israelis support resuming negotiations with the Palestinians on the basis of two states with the border more or less along the Green Line, a division of Jerusalem and a solution to the refugee problem outside the framework of the "right of return." They have cold-shouldered the Zionist leftist parties and flocked to Kadima not because they have reservations about a compromise along the lines of the Clinton outline or the Geneva Initiative, but because they lack faith in our Palestinian partner.
A similar phenomenon can be observed in our neighbors' public opinion. Almost 80 percent of them support resuming negotiations on a final-status agreement, and 58 percent are willing to do so on the basis of the Geneva Initiative's principles. Even Hamas members, who considered signing the Oslo Accord to be worse than eating pork, cannot swim against this current, and they are fighting over every seat in the parliament that was established by dint of that accord. Hamas, like the Israeli right, is relying on the other side to do its work and confirm the claim that "there is no partner."
The platforms of the leading parties in both Israel and the territories are badges of honor for Israeli and Palestinian public opinion. This public opinion is the torch that precedes the march, and ultimately, it will force the politicians to make the right decisions. Alas for every man and woman in this large public who will fall along the way.