" 'Sharon leads to peace,' the banner of the stage declared."
The last time the Israeli "Arab vote" was pushed toward Shimon Peres for Prime Minister -- back in 1996 -- there was much resistance. Then Peres was acting Prime Minister after the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, the Israeli Army had just committed the Qana massacre in Southern Lebanon, and Peres was busy trying to cover it up. This time, if Barak gets out of the way as may happen as early as next week, the Israeli "Arab vote" might be just enough to push Peres ahead of Ariel Sharon, keep "Oslo" alive, and keep the Arafat Regime (as well as a few others) in power.
But even should that happen Oslo is in a coma, on life-support. Peres or no, the Knesset remains the same, the issues remain the same, the deep contradictions remain the same, and most importantly, the "Apartheid Peace" championned by Peres and Barak remains the same. Not to mention, there are so many good reasons not to trust Shimon Peres who shares far more with Ehud Barak then he wants to admit; for after all, he wants and needs the "Arab vote".
SPECULATION MOUNTS OVER BARAK'S ELECTION BID
Israel seems set for further political tumult, as Derek Brown explains
The Guardian - Wednesday January 10, 2001: There is vigorous speculation in Israel that the prime minister, Ehud Barak, is about to abandon his bid for reelection on February 6.
Opinion polls show Barak trailing badly behind his far-right challenger, Ariel Sharon. But one poll - interestingly enough produced by Barak's own brother - shows that Sharon would be beaten by Barak's One Israel party colleague and former prime minister, Shimon Peres.
Several close observers believe that Barak is about to throw in the towel and concede the candidature to Peres.
Such a sensational development would not be out of keeping in the rumbustious context of Israeli politics. And, with less than four weeks to polling day, more sensations may yet emerge.
Sharon has kicked off his campaign with a typically blunt assertion that the Oslo peace accords - Israel's favoured shorthand description for the agreement secretly negotiated in Norway with Yasser Arafat's Palestine Liberation Organisation - are dead.
He has already promised dire retaliation against the Palestinians if their current intifada (uprising) continues.
The intifada erupted at the end of September, sparked by Sharon's provocative visit to the main mosque compound in Jerusalem. It has since claimed around 360 lives, the overwhelming majority of them Palestinian.
Most Israelis believe that the violence is being cynically directed by Arafat and his lieutenants, in the hope of squeezing territorial concessions with Barak, who has long portrayed himself as the only man who can bring about a final peace settlement.
Now Barak's drive for peace is over, and the former army chief is widely seen as a lame-duck leader bereft of ideas for quelling the unrest.
Peres, on the other hand, is seen as Israel's most seasoned politician, with more than half a century's experience and an unrivalled relationship of trust with Arafat, his fellow Nobel peace laureate.
Barak's woes, meanwhile, have been deepened by a strident campaign within Israel's Arab minority for a poll boycott. The nation's 1.1m Arab citizens, who identify strongly with their 2m Palestinian kinsfolk in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, are deeply disillusioned with the prime minister.
He promised them rapid improvements in living conditions, and failed to deliver. He pledged himself to peace settlement which, for now, has evaporated in violence. Most of all, he presided over the heavy-handed response to the rioting in Arab areas which accompanied the start of the intifada.
Thirteen Arab citizens of Israel were shot dead, and the community, which largely supported Barak in the last prime ministerial election in 1999, is in no mood to do so again.
ISRAEL'S SHARON KICKS OFF CAMPAIGN
By MARK LAVIE
JERUSALEM (AP - 11 January) - Smiling, white-haired and portly, candidate Ariel Sharon holds a small child, every bit the gentle, grandfatherly type, in a new campaign ad preview shown on Israeli television.
It's part of what supporters and rivals alike call the new, soft image of the hawkish general and longtime politician whom Palestinians blame for touching off violence when he visited a disputed Jerusalem holy site on Sept. 28.
Enjoying a double-digit lead in polls over Prime Minister Ehud Barak, with elections set for Feb. 6, Sharon formally kicked off his campaign with a Jerusalem rally Wednesday night.
``There is no peace without concessions. ... The peace we reach will be reached on a compromise,'' Sharon told supporters, in a gentle preface to a list of suggested compromises he ruled out one by one.
The new TV ad showed Sharon as a young boy on a farm, then in the company of Israeli pioneers and in uniform as an army general.
For one of Israel's toughest hawks, Sharon's softer style is brand new - a gesture to the apparent yearning of most Israelis to reach some sort of settlement with the Palestinians.
He has so far avoided specifics on how he would handle peace talks - and fighting - with the Palestinians.
But his message is in line with his hard-line past: Barak offered the Palestinians too much in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Jerusalem, projected weakness that invited the current violence there, and has been too reluctant to strike back.
The campaign so far has seen few challenges over Sharon's past, which features the disastrous 1982 invasion of Lebanon he directed as defense minister and the subsequent 1983 commission of inquiry that found him indirectly responsible for the massacre of hundreds of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon by Israeli-allied Christian militiamen.
Sharon insisted last week he could not have dreamed the militiamen were capable of such an act - even though other officials have said there was warning.
Signs and banners Wednesday stuck to his new theme: ``Sharon leads to peace,'' the banner of the stage declared.
His campaign song, cooed by a female choir of soft voices, mentions the word ``peace'' over and over.
``Only Sharon will bring peace,''
``A peace that will protect us.''
The message - qualifying the nature of the peace as protective - is aimed at Israelis shocked by more than 100 days of Israeli-Palestinian violence that has killed 364 people, most of them Palestinians.
Sharon spelled out his tough stand in a newspaper interview and later at the campaign rally.
``The Oslo agreement exists no more - period,'' Sharon said in an interview with an ultra-Orthodox Jewish weekly, Kfar Habad, referring to successive interim accords that have guided Israel-Palestinian peacemaking since secret negotiations in the Norwegian capital in 1993.
Sharon charged in the interview - widely excerpted in Israeli newspapers Wednesday - that three months of Palestinian violence have, in effect, voided the accords.
The violence began after Sharon's Sept. 28 visit, starting with Palestinian protests of Sharon's assertion of Israeli sovereignty at the site.
Sharon said he not would retake the land under Palestinian control under the interim accords, about 40 percent of the West Bank and two thirds of the Gaza Strip. But he left little reason for Palestinians to hope they would get more land from him.
Speaking to supporters at a packed convention center, Sharon did not repeat his negation of the interim accords, but said he would never cede any part of Jerusalem, nor would he give up the strategic Jordan River Valley ``and areas necessary for Israel's security and the (Jewish) settlements in them.''
Admitting that peace means compromise, Sharon said that after all violence ceases, ``we will renew the negotiations on a new basis that will lead to real peace.'' He did not define the new basis.
Palestinians want a state in all of the West Bank and Gaza, with the Arab section
of Jerusalem as its capital, including a holy site also claimed by Israel. Sharon
insists he can make peace by lowering Palestinian expectations.