Small World

Jewish World Review Feb. 22, 2001 / 29 Shevat, 5761

Unity gov't in Israel key to strength

By Richard Z. Chesnoff -- Secretary of State Powell dips his toes into the muddy Mideast waters this week, and the Israelis are not unnervous about this first on-scene encounter with the new President's foreign policy man.

With Palestinian extremists calling for more intifadeh blood, Israel needs a united voice. That means a policy consensus that will not only enable Israel to handle the Palestinian challenge, but also withstand the demands of those in the West who would equalize the guilt for the current violence and have Israel surrender to terrorist blackmail.

There are other problems on the horizon. While Israel's top military strategists pooh-pooh the immediate danger of Saddam Hussein to Israel, the fact is that the Baghdad Butcher is totally unpredictable. Just watching Iraqi TV here shows how Saddam has latched on to the new Palestinian intifadeh as Iraq's cause; it almost gets as much attention as the latest Anglo-American raids on Baghdad.

There are also growing Iraqi links with Syria, where the new president, Bashar Assad — once touted as a peacemaker — is turning out to be as big an enemy of peace as his late dictator father, Hafez Assad. The young Assad is even strengthening links to Iran — and its Lebanese-based terror group Hezbollah.

Israel's answer to all this must be in a unified policy, not the splinters that usually mar Israeli political life.

Who knows better than Gen. Ariel Sharon that winning a tough battle means first assembling your best officers. That's one of the keys to the Israeli prime minister- elect's decision to face down the crisis by forming a unity government and naming the opposition Labor Party's two leaders as his top brass: outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Barak as defense minister and veteran Israeli statesman Shimon Peres as foreign minister.

No doubt there are hard-nosed political considerations. Sharon faces an uphill fight in cobbling together the coalition every Israeli prime minister needs to rule. And what better way than to neutralize his most popular opponents in the Labor Party? More so because Sharon's own Likud Party rival, former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is panting in the wings, waiting for Sharon to stumble and fall.

Sharon also needs the dovish Barak and Peres to offset his right-wing extremist tag.

Clearly, ego has played a role in Barak's and Peres' surprise decisions to accept Sharon's invitation. Neither of the two enjoy being on the sidelines. But there's a lot to be said for the unity idea and for the choices Sharon has made.

Barak remains one of Israel's top military minds. Peres commands the respect of many of the same Mideast and European leaders who despise Sharon. Peres may also be the only senior Israeli that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat will even talk with (if that's worth very much). Mostly, both men, as well as other moderates in a Sharon government, can play an important balancing role in what might otherwise be a totally right-wing cabinet.The relationship with Washington remains Israel's most important foreign link. The Bush administration, however, seems to be more preoccupied with Saddam, the previous Bush administration's nemesis, than it is with Arab-Israeli peace.

Jerusalem is going to have to increasingly rely on itself. It can do that only with as much unity as possible.

JWR contributor and veteran journalist Richard Z. Chesnoff is a senior correspondent at US News And World Report and a columnist at the NY Daily News. His latest book, recently updated, is Pack of Thieves: How Hitler & Europe Plundered the Jews and Committed the Greatest Theft in History.


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4/9/98: The US Navy's two faced Pollard policy
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1/11/98: The Moment for Restitution Has Arrived

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