Volume 3, No. 4 – December 1999
EXTERNAL FACTORS IN ISRAEL’S 1999 ELECTIONS
By Barry Rubin
Abstract: Israel’s 1999 elections drew considerable international interest, but claims of foreign interference are exaggerated. The statements and preferences of Arab leaders reveal much about their understanding and views of Israel, while American officials were careful not to directly enter the fray, despite perceptions to the contrary. Russiaï¿½s introduction into Israelï¿½s domestic elections is an intriguing result of Israelï¿½s demographic changes over the past decade.
Israeli elections attract a huge amount of international attention, given the importance of the country in the Middle East, the diplomatic importance of the Arab-Israeli conflict and the peace process, and its historic and cultural centrality to the world. Equally, given these factors, foreign countries and groups are ready to interfere or become involved in such internal matters to an extent unthinkable in the case of almost any other country in the world. (1)
This phenomenon, so clear in Israel’s 1992 and 1996 elections, was even more present in the 1999 balloting. Those potentially involved or affecting the Israeli elections include the Arab states, the Palestinian Authority (PA), the United States, and Russia. But two points must be made clear at the outset in discussing this issue. First, in general, the outsidersï¿½ activities had little or no effect on Israeli voters or on the election results. Rather, the behavior of these foreign states and movements reveals their policies toward and relationships with Israel. This factor includes their particular analysis and level of understanding regarding Israeli politics, policies, public opinion, and society.
Second, there is an important distinction to be made between a legitimate strong interest in Israel’s elections and unwarranted interference. This question has been hotly debated in Israel before and it became part of the partisan debate in 1999. The key rule should be: Interference is defined by a state or group acting in a way different from what it would have done if no election existed. Thus, while some have tried to portray the U.S. denial of loan guarantees (1992) or holding of a major anti-terrorism conference (1996) as interference, these actions were consistent with U.S. policy and interests. The same things would have been done even if there had been no election in Israel at the time. At the same time, though, certain foreign governments, political leaders, groups, and newspapers were willing to make clear their preferences for one side over another in the Israeli election. In some cases, Israeli politicians were accused of inviting or intensifying such behavior.
Israelï¿½s 1999 election was unique. For the first time ever, Arab journalists and experts came to Israel to cover the election and to interview the candidates. The Qatar-based al-Jazira satellite television station, one of the Arab world’s most popular, had full, detailed coverage of the campaign and balloting. (2)
Indeed, the attitude of Arab states toward the election, the journalist Zvi Bar’el wrote in Ha’aretz, “may be the most important revolution since the signing of the Oslo agreement.” The historic Arab slogans which claimed there was “no difference between former prime ministers Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Rabin, or between Netanyahu and former prime minister Shimon Peres, have become obsolete and ineffective.” (3)
To some extent, the Arab countriesï¿½ ability to better understand Israel was a component in their decision to negotiate and make peace in the first place. (4) Arab states now had to deal with Israel politically, and thus had a greater stake in differentiating among Israeli leaders and parties. According to a commentator in a Kuwaiti newspaper, “it is precisely the differences concerning the peace process, precisely the Palestinian factor, which have led to the fall of the government and elections in Israel.” (5)
The Arab world, wrote Zvi Barel in Ha’aretz, was analyzing Israel’s election far more carefully and fully: “The wide-ranging knowledge, the familiarity with the political forces, the campaign reporting undertaken by much of the Arab media by means of their correspondents in Israel, and the many background stories concerning Israel published in the press (not merely in Jordan and Egypt, but in Yemen and Tunisia) all represent a revolutionary change in the approach of Arab intellectuals to Israel.”
He quoted an Egyptian author as saying, “You judge the peace not by the agreements that you don’t want to keep, but by the prevalent mood among us. You want normalization you have decided that the touchstone is good relations between peoples and not just between governments. Our job as intellectuals is to decide whether it is permissible to make that kind of peace with you … to see if you have passed the mentality test successfully. The fact that we are so interested is evidence of the change taking place here, that there is a readiness. But the answer is in your hands.” (6)
Palestinians had a similar perspective. “The votes of the Israeli people will indicate how high the peace process is on their priority list. Are they ready to give the pro-peace parties a chance to make progress?” asked an editorial in the West Bank newspaper al-Quds. Akram Haniya, a close advisor to Yasir Arafat and editor of al-Ayyam, wrote that the days when Palestinians believed that all Zionist parties were “two faces of the same coin” were over. (7)
The election became defined as the way in which Israel would proveï¿½despite previous delays for which the Arabs blamed itï¿½that it was ready to make peace. In effect, then, the election became a confidence-building measure in the process.
THE ARAB STATES
Moderate Arabs, then, tended to portray the 1999 election as a referendum on peace which was very important for Arab interests. The idea that Israelis of different views were contending contrasted sharply with the historic Arab position that all Israelis were essentially alike in their evil nature. A corollary here was that Ehud Barak and Yitzhak Mordechai were seen as representing the forces of good against the hated Netanyahu.
Fairly representative of these arguments were Egypt’s leading newspapers, which generally followed the government line. According to al-Ahram, ï¿½The future of the Middle East region dependsï¿½ on the election results. Israeli voters would ï¿½decide whether [they] want peace or whether they do not.ï¿½ Without taking sides, al-Akhbar noted, ï¿½Although this is an internal affair not to be interfered with…all Arabs hold the hope that Israel’s new government will be one which…will work to advance peace.ï¿½ (8)
A parallel approach was seen in Jordan. “Jordan cannot afford to take sides in the elections,” said Abdallah Hasanat, executive editor of the Jordan Times. Still, the elections were “fateful” for Jordan because it had so much at stake in the peace process’s success. (9) Ironically, the meeting between Jordan’s King Husayn and then-candidate Benjamin Netanyahu on the eve of the 1996 elections was considered a pro-Netanyahu step. But King Abdallah II met Barak and Mordechai informally as a sign of neutrality. (10)
The young king urged Israel’s next government to show a real commitment to reach a lasting peace with the Palestinians. This formula avoided any endorsement and, no doubt deliberately, lent itself an interpretation of either favoring Netanyahu’s opponents or simply urging Netanyahu to follow a moderate policy if he was victorious. In short, the goal was to minimize friction with whoever won the election. (11) At the same time, though, he noted that Israel-Jordan relations had suffered under Netanyahu (notably because of an attempted assassination of a Hamas leader in Amman) and Jordanian newspapers called for Netanyahu’s defeat. (12)
Indeed, whenever Arab leaders or the media became more specific, they made their preferences clear. Even if, as Mahmoud Mourad wrote in the Egyptian daily al-Akhbar, Arabs had no or different opinions on other candidates, they hated Netanyahu. (13)
A number of commentators, like Makram Muhammad Ahmad, editor of al-Musawwar, a state-owned Egyptian magazine, spoke in apocalyptic terms: “Netanyahu does not want peace for Israel; he wants Arab territory…. His reelection will be a big catastrophe for the future of regional peace and stability because it will only cause more killing, blood, destruction and violence.” (14) Sa’id Sonbol wrote in al-Akhbar: “Should Netanyahu be re-elected, it would be most unfortunate for peace in the Middle East.” His actions as Israel’s prime minister “have shown him to be a cheat, a liar and a bigot; aggressive and racist; a man full hatred for Palestinians, and for Arabs as a whole; a psychopath….” (15)
Salah Bassiouny, a former diplomat who heads the Cairo Peace Movement, said: “Our experience with Netanyahu is bitter and very disappointing.ï¿½ (16) Similarly, the Jordanian editor, Hasanat, said that Netanyahu’s ideology stopped him from making a territorial compromise. “In many ways you feel that he looks down at Arabs and this is what we don’t like,” he added. (17)
In a real sense, attacks on Netanyahu were expressed in the context of an unprecedented sympathetic attitude toward Israelis who, moderate Arabs argued, would reject Netanyahu and his policies. Thus, Egypt’s official radio station, in an analysis by Hasan al-Ashrawi, argued that Israeli voters would not reelect Netanyahu because they knew how damaging his policies were. (18) Similarly, al-Ahram suggested, “Israeli voters of different political inclinations are well aware that a just and durable peace in the region is the only viable option….” (19)
Anti-Netanyahu sentiments were sometimes accompanied, but by no means always, by favorable attitudes toward Barak and Mordechai. Netanyahu’s opponents, said Bassiouny, “are to be trusted more as far as the peace process is concerned [than Likud].” (20) Hasanat said, “Labor is ready to compromise and to compromise a great deal. The Likud and right-wing parties are basically ideological and want to keep what they call the Land of Israel.” (21) “Should Barak win the Prime Minister’s seat,” argued the Egyptian Said Sonbol, “there would be hope of activating a long-frozen peace process.ï¿½ (22)
But there was also skepticism toward Barak’s ability. As Salama al-Salama put it in Al-Ahram, “Arabs are urged not to be overly optimistic about Ehud Barak’s winning the elections” because Barak demonstrated little in the way of talent and might be bound by his coalition partners in a new government. (23) The Jordanian Hasanat, who felt that Labor was more moderate, also thought Barak lacked vision and had a better opinion of Mordechai, especially given his family’s Middle East roots. More sophisticated analysts also pointed out that Barak’s policy would be affected by the type of coalition government he would have to form. (24)
In contrast, though, radical regimes and groupsï¿½especially those in Libya, Iraq, and Iranï¿½maintained the traditional argument that there was no difference among Israeli political leaders. Hardliners were dismayed that their fellow Arabs entertained any hopes at all from Israel’s election. Abd al-Bari Atwan, editor of the Iraqi-backed al-Quds al-Arabi, attacked Arab leaders for a “unilateral fixationï¿½ on the Israeli elections. (25)
A typical example of the hostile approach was Gamal Abd al-Dayim writing in al-Wafd, an Egyptian opposition newspaper, “Mistaken are they whoever believe that [a Barak victory]…would realize their hope of an Israeli withdrawal from Arab territories, or of peace…. Israel’s policy remains the same even if governments change. Barak and Netanyahu are two sides to the same coin. Both adopt the same Torah [sic] fundamentals. For instance, Barak has, in the course of the election campaign, promised to exert his very utmost to maintain Jerusalem as the country’s eternal and undivided capital. He has also pledged not to relinquish the Golan and not to stop building settlements in the West Bank.” (26)
The Egyptian Ahmad al-Gendi wrote that whoever won it would have “no direct bearing on the peace process…. Most, if not all Israelis show no sympathy with the inalienable rights and demands of Palestinians, particularly in respect of land, Jerusalem and statehood.ï¿½ (27)
Among the Arab states, Syria’s attitude toward the election was the most complex. The Syrians wanted a government which would be more willing to meet their demands about returning the Golan Heights. At the same time, however, since Syria itself was uncertain about wanting a deal, there were advantages to having a similarly inclined Israeli government. Moreover, though unknown at the time, there had been secret negotiations between the Netanyahu government and Damascus.
The Syrian ability to affect Israel’s election came in large part from influence over the Lebanese Hezbollah group to increase or decrease attacks against Israeli forces in southern Lebanon and inside Israeli territory. During the election, attacks neither increased sharply nor ceased. Arguably, there was a decline that could be said to have helped Netanyahu. Of course, the Syrians and Hezbollah itself also had to take into consideration the likelihood of a strong Israeli response in the event of any escalation, as had happened from Prime Minister Shimon Peres in the 1996 election.
At times, Damascus seemed to favor Labor. Foreign Minister Farouk al-Shara said, in an interview distributed by Syria’s official news agency, that the Syrian and Israeli governments managed to agree on 80 percent of a peace deal when the Labor Party was in power. But when the Likud Party returned to office, the peace process stopped. (28) On the other hand, Assad was quoted by a U.S. official as saying that he supported Netanyahu. (29)
Hezbollah itself maintained that it was indifferent to Israel’s election. Deputy Secretary-General of Hezbollah, Naim Kasem, said his organization has no preference, “since neither [candidate] would serve Lebanese interests.” Similarly, Hezbollah’s leader, Hasan Nasrallah, said that Barak and Netanyahu “are both the same and the only difference between them is the style of their maneuvering and aggression.” It was reported that the group had reached an agreement with Syria that its attacks would go on as usual, meaning neither an escalation to attack Israeli civilians nor a reduction of operations. (30)
Lebanese leaders took a line similar to that of Hezbollah. “Most of the Israeli wars against the Arabs were carried out by the Labor party,” stated Lebanese prime minister Salim Hoss just after the election. “There is no difference between Barak and Netanyahu.” (31)
This theme was followed with complete consistency by Iraqi and Iranian leaders and media. “Counting on the Labor party is nothing more than a mirage and an illusion, [although Likud was] more flagrant in its anti-Arab racism and hostility,” insisted the al-Iraq newspaper. (32) Iran’s state-owned radio said that the Labor party was mainly responsible for wars with the Arabs and building Jewish settlements in the territories. (33)
Parallel views were stated in some other quarters not enthusiastic about participating in the peace process. For example, a Saudi newspaper, al-Riyadh insisted that moderate Israelis were more dangerous than extremist ones, “The Palestinians are deluding themselves if they hope to gain from the relative moderation of the new prime minister…. The dangers to peace come not from those who act publicly but from those who plot and execute their plans through cunning like Rabin and Peres.” (34)
Being so deeply involved in negotiations with Israel (and hence with Israel’s leadership), the PA was well aware of the elections’ importance for its own interests. Equally, having staked its existence on the direction of Israeli politics and with five years’ experience in dealing with that country’s prime ministers, it could not lightly brand all Israeli politicians as identical. No external group watched the Israeli elections more carefully and with more involvement than did the Palestinians, and particularly the PA.
The differences in various Palestinian analyses of the election were considerable. As with the Arab states, moderate Palestiniansï¿½supporters of the PA and the peace processï¿½generally disliked Netanyahu and wanted Barak to win. Radicals who opposed the peace process argued that there was no significant difference between the candidates. But there were also variations among individuals and factions, a serious internal debate over whether the PA should declare independence unilaterally on May 4, 1999, and over the level of sophistication in understanding Israeli politics.
The PA’s official position was that the elections were an internal Israeli matter and Palestinians should neither interfere nor take sides. In the most outspoken PA statement, shortly before the election, the PA cabinet urged Israelis to “vote for peace” and blamed the stalemate in the peace process on the “destructive policy of the current Israeli government.” (35) But when individual Palestinian leaders were speaking, they made it clear that the election very much concerned them because it had so much effect on their futures. In that context, they had very strong opinions.
“The elections are an internal Israeli matter but we are partners in a peace process,” said leader of the Palestinian Peoples (Communist) party Sulayman Najjab. “The Palestinian people, who suffered at the hands of Netanyahu, are hanging their hopes on anyone but him.” Ziyad Abu Zayyad, a PA legislator with a special interest in Israeli politics, noted, “If Netanyahu is re-elected, it will be a major setback for the peace process.” (36)
A good description of the Palestinian view of the election as all-important was given by Munzer Dajani, research director at the Palestine Center for Regional Studies: “This is a very sensitive election for us, more so than previous ones. It is our chance to know where each party stands on the sensitive issues: Jerusalem, refugees, settlements, water. What concerns the Palestinians is to know where the Israeli public stands.” (37)
A typical statement was made by an editorial in Fatah’s internal newsletter: “Israeli elections are internal affairs the results of which will have a direct influence on the entire peace process…. If he is re-elected, Netanyahu may well impose his own version of ï¿½peaceï¿½: Autonomy for Palestinians within the land of Israel. In short, these elections directly and forcibly influence our fate as Palestinians. Together with all Arab peoples, then, we must do our utmost to ensure that Netanyahu is not re-elected, while recognizing that even if this goal is achieved, it still represents only a somewhat lesser evil.” (38)
The editorial then amplified this attitude: “We only wish to put an end to the politics of deception that Netanyahu’s government practices. Saying this is not to deny that the Labor Party is engaged in similar practices, albeit to a relatively lesser degree, during the days of Rabin and Peres. Certainly, we expect the Labor Party to continue in the same vein. There is, however, a difference between a party that sees its interest in peace and one which sees its interest in the destruction of peace.” (39)
Mainstream PA reactions were along similar lines. Fadal Tahboub, a Palestine National Council (the PLO’s parliament) member, said, “Anyone other than Netanyahu will be good for the peace process and stability in our region.” (40) Faysal al-Husayni, a member of the PA cabinet and the Fatah leader in East Jerusalem, remarked that Netanyahu “is an impossible negotiator who tries to dictate. And if you reach an agreement with him, he then tries to blow it up.” In contrast, for Barak’s Labor party, “The kind of state is more important to Labor than land. For Netanyahu, land is more important.” (41)
Dajani explained, “There are major differences between what the Likud stands for and what Labor stands for. We feel Labor is more committed to peace regardless of its slogans during the elections. They are committed to the Oslo Accords and they will implement [them], while we feel the Likud doesn’t seem to find the peace accords in the interest of the state of Israel.”(42)
Some believed that Netanyahu’s reelection would better serve Palestinian interests, since his rule would isolate Israel further and promote more U.S. support for the Palestinians. Dajani suggested that perhaps a national unity government in Israel, even one headed by Netanyahu, would be better able to make peace. A few Palestinians also favored Mordechai, since they felt he had been friendlier toward them as defense minister. But these were all minority opinions. (43)
Hassan Asfour, a veteran PLO and PA negotiator, expressed the “pro-Netanyahu” Palestinian argument, though speaking tongue-in-cheek. “I think Netanyahu has helped the Palestinians in their relations with the international community more than any other Israeli prime minister,” he joked. “He has also strengthened our relations with the United States. We thank him for that.” (44)
More often, though, suspicions were often expressed about the Labor party and about Barak personally. Haniya stated, “It is easy to oversimplify and hastily write off the difference between Benjamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak as the difference between Pepsi and Coca-Colaï¿½. It’s also easy to fall prey to fantasies surrounding the advent of Barak, as if he has the solutions to all of the region’s problems.” (45)
Harder-line Palestinians saw the election in more conspiratorial terms. One common argument was that it had been timed both to stall on implementing the peace process and to sabotage a Palestinian declaration of independence on May 4. It was also argued that the Israeli candidates had the same position on keeping all of Jerusalem, refusing to return to the pre-1967 borders, rejecting a Palestinian state, and removing settlements or even stopping their construction. The radical newspaper al-Hayat al-Jadida concluded, “Can we bet on Barak, who was critical of Netanyahu following the signing of the Wye agreement because Netanyahu agreed to hand over more territories than those which the Labor Party had intended to hand over to the Palestinians…?” (46)
Those opposed to the peace process thought there was no difference at all among the Israeli politicians, that the election would bring no change, and that Netanyahu was more likely to win. Thus, Ghazi Hamid, editor of the pro-Hamas al-Risala newspaper in Gaza, insisted that both Labor and Likud “say ‘Jerusalem is our capital’ and favor settlements. Barak doesn’t have the courage to say anything against settlements…. We tested the Labor Party during the beginning of the peace process and the PA always complained that nothing was being implemented.” Hamid continued, “I think the Israeli people still support Netanyahu as the only one who can put pressure on the PA. The Israeli people are still living in a panic that they are surrounded by enemies and they feel the need for a strong person to protect them.”(47)
Faruq Qaddumi, a PLO leader who opposed the peace process and had chosen to remain in exile, stated: “There are no basic differences [between Likud and Labor]. It’s true that the Labor Party shows more flexibility but it will do nothing to unblock the peace process unless international pressure is applied, especially from the United States and Europe.” (48)
Khalid Mishal, a Hamas leader based in Amman, suggested that “the Zionist entity” sought only “to try to improve its image” and not to make any changes. (49) Hamas’ leader Ahmad Yasin said that his group’s willingness to keep fighting “doesn’t depend on whether Labor or Likud are in power.” (50) Hamas, Yasin insisted, was ï¿½not interested in who loses or wins in Israel because in our opinion, they are two sides of the same coin. They differ on appearances but they are in full agreement on basic matters.ï¿½ (51)
Hamas also insisted that it had not stopped attacks against Israel during the campaign. “There is no agreement with the PA to stop attacks,” said Hamas political bureau chief Khaled Mishal, in an interview in Amman. (52) PA leaders were very much aware that terrorist attacks during the campaign might help Netanyahu.
The leftist opposition had a perspective similar to Hamas. Nayif Hawatma, leader of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), claimed Israelis were becoming more hardline in their “policy of expansion and aggression…. All the disagreements that take place among the Israeli parties are about more expansion” and efforts to deny Palestinian rights. While a Labor party government might be more flexible, “The change in policy between the Likud and Labor, most probably, will not be that noticeable” regarding Jerusalem, borders, and repatriation of refugees. The only difference is that Barak would keep 52 percent of the West Bank while Mordechai and Netanyahu wanted to retain between 58 and 64 percent. (53)
During the campaign, numerous meetings were held in West Bank townsï¿½often with Israeli Arabs among the speakersï¿½to discuss the election. Perhaps the most sophisticated discussion was the April 1999 conference held by Fatah’s Bureau for Academic Affairs and Studies through its Forum of Thought and National Dialogue. The bureau was headed by Sakhr Habash. Three of the five speakers were Israeli citizens. (54)
Habash gave a detailed analysis on his view of the elections:
Economic, social and ideological issues will dominate their election platforms, to be sure, but the next Israeli prime minister will be chosen based on Israelis’ perceptions of the economic and security dividends that will accrue to them as a result of their candidate’s stance toward the Palestinians…. (55)
Habash added, “Labor, of course, is not against the Palestinian declaration of statehood…. Netanyahu’s government collapsed, not for social or economic reasons, but because of its attitude towards the peace process. This being the case, the Israeli early elections will function as a referendum on the peace process. If Israelis reelect Netanyahu, this will indicate that they do not want a just peace, since Netanyahu’s strategy is simply to try to make the Palestinians comply with the wishes of the Israeli right-wing. Since the Palestinian side will never accept this, the reelection of Netanyahu would throw the whole area into a bloody conflict.” Still, “Barak is leaning more and more to the right” and even the left-wing Laborite Yossi Beilin was seen as opposing Palestinian demands. (56)
Habash saw two main constituencies within Israel. Netanyahu’s supporters wanted a “Greater Israel”, continued construction and expansion of settlements in the West Bank and Gaza, and some limited form of “autonomy” for Palestinians. The second constituency backed Barak and Mordechai. It fluctuated “between a vision of complete separation from Palestinians, the erection of a kind of wall between the two peoples, figuratively, if not literally, and those who can conceive of living in peaceful coexistence with a Palestinian state. This constituency is not, however, prepared to be lenient in dealing with final status issues.” (57)
Dr. Ghanem Miz’il, Professor of Comparative Literature, Al-Najah University, agreed with many of Habash’s points. “Differences between the big parties (Labor, Likud and Center) have disappeared…. For example, they differ little in their conceptions of a permanent solution to the Palestinian issues, in the ways they say they will deal with the matter of Jerusalem, and in what they perceive themselves as offering to Israeli society. ”
Yet Miz’il contradicted his own claim, revealing some of the ambiguity in Palestinian feelings on this issue:
Netanyahu has adopted an offensive position in his attempt to appear to be the only one who can withstand pressures from the United States. He has accused Barak of being a leftist who is ready to sell out part of the land of “Greater Israel”…. Barak, for his part, views Netanyahu as a danger to Israel. If Israel is to integrate into the Middle East, it must rid itself of Netanyahu, whose years in power have only brought about regression in the areas of education, including higher education, health insurance, the economy, and domestic affairs generally. Netanyahu, in Barak’s view, has divided the Israeli people into two main camps and thereby caused damage to the unity of his people. Barak views himself, on the other hand, as the representative of all, not merely half, the Israeli people. He emphasizes the importance of the peace process and the need for friendship with the Palestinian people. Implicitly, if not explicitly, he recognizes the inevitability of a Palestinian state. (58)
What did rank-and-file Palestinians think of the Israeli elections? Several Palestinian analysts suggested that they were more likely to still accept the view that there was not much difference among the candidates. The trend was toward greater differentiation in their understanding of Israeli politics. Still, their views did not coincide either with the PA leaders’ relative preference for Barak or Netanyahu’s claim that the Palestinians were supporting his rival.
A January 1999 Center for Palestine Research and Studies poll showed that 69 percent of Palestinians thought that, in terms of Palestinians interests, all the Israeli candidates were the same. In comparison, 16.8 percent thought Barak would be better for Palestinian interests, compared to 3.8 percent and 2.4 percent respectively for Shahak and Netanyahu. (59) An April 1999 poll showed that 19 percent of Palestinians believed Barak would be more capable of moving the peace process forward, while only 3 percent thought the same of Netanyahu, and 63 percent saw no difference between the two. (60)
Despite skepticism about Israeli intentions, Palestinians had an extremely positive evaluation of the level of democracy in Israel. In the April 1999 survey, 66 percent viewed Israel positively as a democracy, compared to lower proportions who had such a positive evaluation of the United States (54 percent), France (45 percent), and Jordan (30 percent). (61)
While Israeli Arabs understood the campaign rhetoric and advertisements as part of the political processï¿½including Barak’s need to prove his security credentials as a basis for pursuing flexible policiesï¿½PA observers saw this phenomenon as a sign of hostility. (62) The PA’s Information Ministry claimed Palestinians were depicted as “savage terrorists” and the candidates were competing to show “who is the Israeli who killed the largest numbers of Palestinians and deserves the largest number of votes.” One Netanyahu commercial showed an Arab counting the days until Barak takes power. Barak’s commercials show his military achievements. (63)
Sa’eb Arikat warned of “the tilt toward extremism” in the campaign. “If the majority of the Israeli people want peace,” he asks, “how come the candidates are talking to them about red lines and more noes.” (64)
The most important controversy on the Palestinian side revolved around whether or not the PA would declare independence unilaterally on May 4, 1999. This date was the fifth anniversary of the agreement, signed in Cairo on May 4, 1994, implementing the Oslo accords. Since the interim period was to take five years before the conclusion of a final treaty, the original term of the Oslo agreement (signed in Washington in October 1993) could be said to have ended.
Arafat’s announcement that he would declare independence in May 1999 was not related to the Israeli elections but rather to the PA’s frustration at delays in the peace process. It is doubtful that Arafat ever intended to implement his threat, given the high political costs that would entail. Rather, he originally intended the gambit as a way to mobilize popular support. Over time, the strategy became more aimed at securing backing and benefits from the United States and Europe in exchange for not declaring independence.
Among the factors discouraging such a Palestinian step were: the opposition of Egypt, Jordan, and other Arab states; warnings from the United States and Europe that doing so would reduce their financial and political support; rejection of the idea by a large proportionï¿½arguably a majorityï¿½of Palestinians; an understanding that such a verbal declaration would have no material effect on the ground; and fear of Israeli reprisals in the form of stopping the peace process altogether or even annexing West Bank territory. (65)
Given the fact that the fateful date was just two weeks before the Israeli elections, however, this event gave Arafat some additional concerns and leverage. A number of Israeli political figures on the left, including Yossi Beilin, asked Arafat to postpone any independence declaration lest this hurt Barak’s chances of victory. (66)
Those Palestinian leaders who opposed the declaration for all of the above reasons seized on the election as a different factor reinforcing their stance. For example, Faysal al-Husayni explained, not altogether accurately, “We gained from postponing it. The whole world is telling us, `We are with you, but we want you to postpone the declaration until after the elections.'” Nabil Sha’th said that the decision would be postponed “because declaring a state on May 4 may affect the results of the Israeli elections….” (67)
The election figured most visibly in the argument of those militants who wanted to declare independence. Perhaps focusing on the Israeli election was easier for them than responding to the other problems associated with making a unilateral declaration of independence. It should also be noted that these dissidents knew that Arafat had already decided not to go through with the threat and would not be persuaded otherwise. (68)
Habash was one of the biggest advocates of a unilateral independence declaration. He wrote that any postponement, “rewards Netanyahu’s procrastination and implies that we have succumbed to his will.” Postponement would actually help Netanyahu win the election because, “He would persuade the Israelis that he had managed to lower the expectations of the Palestinian people, in contrast to his predecessor, Peres….” (69) Moreover, Habash argued, assurances from Barak or the United States in exchange for postponement could not be trusted. (70)
The newspaper al-Hayat al-Jadida, also part of the militant wing, argued that whatever the PA did on May 4, “Netanyahu would be the beneficiary…. If a declaration takes place on the scheduled date, Netanyahu will use it [to] prove to the Israeli people that the PA is not serious about implementing agreements and is violating them unilaterally…. If the PA decides to postpone the declaration, Netanyahu will look triumphant before his people since he will claim that his firm policy was the reason behind a PA rebuff from declaring a Palestinian state.” (71)
When the PA announced that it would not declare independence on May 4, Netanyahu did claim that credit was due to his resolute policies. He declared, “This is an important success for Israel and for the government.ï¿½ (72) But this did not appear to have any effect on the election campaign.
Netanyahu’s critics emphasized the assurances given to Arafat by U.S. President Bill Clinton. The U.S. government angrily denied Netanyahuï¿½s claims that Clinton’s April 26 letter had been written in coordination with him. (73)
One of the most interesting aspects of Palestinian involvement in Israel’s election was its effect on the relationship between the leaders of the PA and of Israel’s Palestinian Arab citizens. What clearly emerged was the rhetoric of unity combined with real differences in attitudes and priorities. Certainly, both sides agreed on the priority of defeating Netanyahu. In Habash’s words:
“Palestinian Arabs in Israel proper realize the importance of their participation in the Israeli elections. Although it has been said, and rightly, that even 95% of the Arab vote could not save Peres in the last election, it is also true that 100% of the Arab vote could have made that crucial difference. Unfortunately, Peres’ aggression in Lebanon made that impossible.” (74)
But Habash’s solution was that all Arabs in Israel should form a single party, or at least one electoral list, which supported the PA and the PLO. He wanted the Arabs inside Israel to “prevent Netanyahu’s reelection” and concluded: “The danger lies in wasting Arab votes [if they] are split among a number of different lists of candidates, rather than united in support for a single list.”(75)
But all the speakers at the Fatah forum who were Israeli citizens supported the idea of multiple lists. And as much as they might support a PA-led Palestinian state, they were independent-minded, following a viewpoint and ideology somewhat different from that of Arafat and his followers.
The Arab representatives in Israel’s parliament were either Communists, Islamists, or independent nationalists (who might feel closer to the PFLP or DFLP than to Fatah). There was no one who could be considered Arafat’s client or puppet. Even Ahmad Tibi, a long-time advisor to Arafat, had broken with the PA.(76) If the PA did not like the Israeli Arab politician Azmi Bishara running for prime minister, it was not merely a question of wanting to help Barak but a real concern that Bishara was setting himself up as an alternative leader to Arafat.
Bishara met with Syrian president Hafiz al-Assad, who refused to meet Arafat, in December 1998. He participated in an Israeli Arab delegation at King Husayn’s funeral in February 1999 that also held talks with Jordan’s leaders. And he was the guest of Egypt’s rulers in March 1999. (77) Bishara had criticized the PA’s agreements with Israel as well as the PAï¿½s records on human rights and corruption.
Bishara’s demand that Israel redefine itself “as a state of all its citizens” rather than as a Jewish state, and his calls for autonomy, interfered with the PA’s struggle. As Danny Rubinstein put it in Ha’aretz: “These ideas contradict the approach of Palestinian diplomats, which supports the concept of ï¿½two states for two peoples.ï¿½ After all, if the state of Israel ceases to be the state of the Jewish people, Arafat’s demand for an Arab-Palestinian state next door would be considerably weakened.” (78)
Thus, while Arafat wanted to see Bishara leave the prime minister’s race so as not to take votes from Barak and force the election into a second round, the PA ruler had good reasons for urging Bishara to withdraw. At the same time, Bishara was not inclined to listen to Arafat’s advice. Equally, Israelï¿½s Palestinian Arabs who were urged by Arafat and the PA to vote for Barak hardly needed such prompting since all those even discussing such matters with the PA were already determined to vote for Barak.
The question of Palestinian involvement in the election became an issue among the main Israeli parties in the campaign. Likud leadersï¿½including Ariel Sharon and Moshe Arensï¿½and advertisements claimed that Arafat “wants Barak because he wants to go back to the days of a leftist government… when he took everything and gave nothing. Netanyahu also stated that Arafat and the PA were trying to persuade Azmi Bishara to drop out of the prime minister’s race so that more Arab votes went to Barak.ï¿½ (79)
Barak responded by saying that, “Arafat is not the one electing Barak, just as Hamas leader Shaykh Ahmad Yasin cannot elect Netanyahu even though he wants to.ï¿½ (80) This position argued that if Arafat backed Barak because he wanted the peace process to advance, Yasin and Hamas preferred Netanyahu because they wanted to block any negotiated solution.
Such controversy reached its highest point after Netanyahu claimed in a cabinet meeting that the chief of military intelligence, Major General Amos Malka, had confirmed Arafat’s interference in the Israeli election campaign and called it “politically explosive”. The army took the unusual step of issuing a denial, pointing out that Malka had refused to discuss this issue, saying that this was a political and not an intelligence question. (81)
Hassan Asfour, a leading PA negotiator, responded to this debate by denying involvement. “Arafat,” he said, “does not need to intervene to make the Israeli people know the true face of Netanyahu.” (82) This claim was disingenuous, though, since the PA was outspokenly opposed to Netanyahu’s reelection. Still, it was also true that those among “the Israeli people” who Arafat was most likely trying to influenceï¿½Arab votersï¿½already opposed Netanyahu by an overwhelming margin and would vote for Barak.
Netanyahu and some of his supporters also argued that the United States was trying to help his rivals in the election. Netanyahu’s opponents responded that he was merely paying the price for his own behavior that had damaged U.S.-Israel relations. In the words of columnist Yoel Marcus, “Bibi, who has never told Clinton the truth and has broken all his promises to him, is regarded by the U.S. president as a lying cheat. The frosty relations with the United States will turn to a block of ice if Bibi is reelected.” (83)
THE UNITED STATES
Another feature of the election was the large-scale presence of American campaign consultants. Netanyahu hired Arthur Finkelstein; Barak contracted with James Carville, Stanley Greenberg, and Bob Shrum. These consultantsï¿½ role and impact seem to have been exaggerated by an Israeli media obsessed with their personalities, but they worked mostly on television advertisements, slogans, and polling. Ha’aretz claimed, “The American advisers will market two leaders to the citizens of Israel, in almost the same way an advertiser markets a new orthopedic mattress. The difference is that the ratings of the campaign broadcasts really can affect the Israeli citizen’s quality of sleep during the next four years.ï¿½ (84)
Already, Israeli politics had been moving closer to an American-style model, a formula characterized in the Washington Post as stressing “speed, agility, repetition and focus.” Finkelstein was portrayed by Netanyahu’s staff as “a rare mixture of genius and magician,” a “guru,” according to Maariv. (85) Netanyahu said he brought in American consultants as part of an effort to be “getting the message through” and they “could help focus the message.” He spoke of local experts as opposed to the experienced U.S. consultants as “like a country doctor versus some guy in the Mayo Clinic.” (87) Barak’s staff evinced a parallel hero-worshipping attitude. It was shown a documentary film glorifying Carville’s handling of the 1992 Clinton campaign and featured him and the other consultants prominently in press conferences. (87)
Some expressed doubts about the utility of such hired guns. “I really don’t see how someone who does not know the language and does not know the people can give advice,” said pollster Mina Zemach. Even U.S. Ambassador to Israel Ned Walker disparaged the phenomenon as a “risky proposition” which made him feel uncomfortable. (88) After all, America was a larger country in which voters’ views were less fixed and where the media had more influence on their decisions. Given Barak’s large majority, it is doubtful if the consultants affected the results, and they had no real role in the parliamentary elections. At any rate, to try to evaluate in detail the consultants’ influence, if any, on the election’s outcome would be a speculative endeavor.
Another debate centered on whether the United States was intervening in the election, a question also asked in 1992 and 1996. This issue must be put into perspective.
The fact that U.S. leaders favored a specific candidate who was more in line with their policy on the Arab-Israeli peace process (Rabin in 1992, Peres in 1996, and Barak in 1999) did not in itself constitute interference. The key questions are: Did the U.S. government act during an Israeli campaign in the context of its own ongoing policy needs, with no change in its previous behavior? And, would the U.S. government have acted in the same way if there was no election campaign in progress?
At the time the Israeli election was scheduled, U.S.-Israel relations were at a low point. (89) Netanyahu’s concept of the way to advance was quite different from that of the United States. It had taken U.S. policy almost one year to persuade Netanyahu to sign another agreementï¿½the Wye agreementï¿½which almost immediately collapsed due to Netanyahu’s reluctance to implement it and his government’s fall over the issue. Friction also arose over other issues. The United States was not in the mood to reward Netanyahu. If there had been no electionï¿½assuming the Wye agreement was not being implementedï¿½bilateral relations would have continued to be cool as they had been for most of the three years since Netanyahu had taken office.
Thus, American actions were not designed to defeat Netanyahu but to punish him for disagreements and what the White House saw as his bad faith. At the same time, Clinton knew that meeting Netanyahu or giving him other benefits would help him in the election, simultaneously letting him argue that his policies had done no damage to Israel’s relations with the United States.
Given this situation, the feelings of U.S. officials toward Netanyahu and Clinton’s refusal to invite him to Washington or meet him did not constitute interference in Israel’s election process. If the United States had acted otherwise, it would have been just as easy to charge interference, albeit in Netanyahu’s favor.
No doubt, there was a perception of American involvement, but that does not mean this was Clinton’s intention or behavior. One journalist wrote, “[The Administration] has made little effort to conceal its interest in a victory for Ehud Barak.” Another noted, “It does not take much detective work in the corridors of Washington to see how the Clinton administration is cold-shouldering Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and subtly trying to help his more conciliatory challengers. (90)
More accurate was the statement of a senior U.S. official: “Notwithstanding all reports to the contrary, we really don’t want to intervene in the Israeli campaign. We are doing our best to avoid it although all sides are trying to schlep us in. It’s a no-win situation for us. We are assumed to be intervening.”(91) He continued, “As long as we keep a low profile and stick to the posture of supporting the implementation of the Wye agreement and opposing unilateral acts, where it is new Jewish settlements or a Palestinian declaration of statehood, I think we are on safe ground. We’ve been in a couple of Israeli elections before and we know where the land mines are. If we got into showing a direct preference, we would step on those landmines.” (92)
The list of American activities that supposedly constituted interference was not really very impressive:
Clinton refused to meet with Netanyahu. In the context of the peace process, such meetings had become rewards to be given for reaching agreements with the other side. If there had been no election, the likelihood of such a meeting would have been equally low. And, as noted above, any such meeting would have been used as “proof” that Netanyahu was doing a good job in preserving relations with the Untied States.
Clinton did meet with Mordechai at a March 17 fund-raising event for the Yitzhak Rabin Center for the Study of Israel. Aides to Mordechai said he had been invited by White House officials. Clinton had earlier written Mordechai a letter praising his role in the peace process. But promoting Mordechai in Israel’s election would have contradicted Washington’s supposed policy of ensuring that Barak defeated Netanyahu. At any rate, Mordechai fell steadily in the polls and was not helped by this meeting. (93)
Vice-President Al Gore also refused to meet with Netanyahu. (94) But when U.S. Secretary of Defense William Cohen visited Israel for just one day in March 1999 to meet with his counterpart, Defense Minister Moshe Arens, as part of a regional tour, he added Netanyahu to his schedule to avoid seeming to snub the prime minister. Then, “in order to maintain neutrality,” Cohen said, he met with Barak and Mordechai. (95)
Netanyahu’s press secretary, David Bar-Illan, argued that blatant U.S. intervention had led to Netanyahu’s defeat. This analysis may have been partly due to Bar-Ilan’s perplexity on how his candidate could have lost under any conditions: “Considering his achievements, the powers arrayed against him should not have prevailed. Neither American intervention, nor police investigations, not even a campaign of character assassination should have made the difference.ï¿½ (96)
Yet Bar-Illan was quite unable to provide any proof of his accusation. He cited newspaper articles critical of Netanyahu as showing there had been an American “disinformation campaign”. The presence of American consultants who had worked for Clinton showed the president’s involvement. These people, however, were independent businessmen who always worked for liberal candidates, the same way that Netanyahu’s consultant had worked for Republicans. Finally, he implied that American Jews who were “prominent Clinton supporters” had given money to Barak’s campaign. (97) But again, these people were liberals who gave to Barak for the same political reasons they gave to Clinton.
Despite the fact that Clinton and U.S. officials obviously wanted Netanyahu to be defeated, there is no serious evidence of any untoward intervention in the campaign.
THE NEW RUSSIAN FACTOR
A new link between foreign countries and Israeli campaigning that appeared in the 1999 election was the Russian factor. As U.S. candidates visit Israel to court the Jewish vote, Israeli candidates now went to Russia to court the immigrant vote (about 20 percent of the electorate comes from the former USSR.) Netanyahu, one such visitor, launched a warmer policy toward Russia during the campaign, though he denied this was connected with the election.
The courting of Russia angered U.S. foreign policymakers. “It doesn’t get much more cynical than thisï¿½just coincidentally a month before Israeli elections, Bibi suddenly starts chasing after the Russians,” says one senior U.S. official. (98)
In contrast, leaders of the immigrant party Yisrael b’Aliya expressed clearly their view that courting Russia was a way to win votes from ex-Soviet immigrants. Natan Sharansky remarked, “Everything that’s happening here now is connected to the election.” Absorption Minister Yuli Edelstein admitted that his constituents like seeing Israelis shaking hands with Russian leaders. “Relations with Russia are held very high in Russian immigrant priorities.” (99) There were also accusations that elements from Russian criminal circles were contributing to Israeli parties, perhaps to ensure a safe haven for themselves or their money laundering operations. (100)
Foreign Minister Ariel Sharon, who visited Russia twice in April 1999, said he hoped these trips would bring more immigrant votes. Israel supported a large International Monetary Fund loan to Russia. Earlier, Sharon had criticized the NATO air strikes on Yugoslavia, which Russia also opposed. Moreover, the new Israeli policy seemed to contradict Israel’s earlier urging to the United States to pressure Russia for help on Iran’s campaign to develop weapons of mass destruction. The most dramatic event was the leaked story that Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov, generally hostile to Israel, said that if he were an Israeli citizen he would vote for Netanyahu. (101)
To reestablish Russian neutrality, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov was careful to meet not only with Netanyahu but also with Barak and Mordechai during his April 1999 visit to Israel. (102) Again, though, there is no evidence that Israeli policy toward Russia affected the vote. Ex-Soviet Israelis shifted to some extent against Netanyahu, and those voting either way had ample domestic reasons for doing so.
In the immediate aftermath of the election, moderate Arabs (103) and the United States (104) were pleased with the outcome. PA officials repeated their hatred for Netanyahu. “He’s a racist and no other Israeli leader will ever be as bad as he was,” said Justice Minister Frayih Abu Midan. (105) “The powers of rationalism which want to put an end to extremism and violence have triumphed,” exclaimed Asfour, “This is a message from the majority of the Israeli public to Barak that it wants to close the chapter of conflict with the Palestinians and with Lebanon and Syria.” (106)
Jordanian, Syrian, and Egyptian leaders also expressed positive sentiments. “We [Barak and I] see eye to eye on many issues and we’re very optimistic of taking the peace process forward,” said King Abdallah. (107)
As has been noted above, it is extremely difficult to analyze whether the attitudes of external factors toward the election had any effect on the voting. Most voters simply incorporated this information into their already existing worldview. For example, a Barak supporter might say that Netanyahu was destroying the U.S.-Israel relationship and leading toward a conflict with the Arabs. A Netanyahu supporter would interpret the same developments as proving that Netanyahu was right to stand up against U.S. pressure for concessions and that the Arabs liked Barak because he would give them more gains at Israel’s expense.
In the final analysis, the behavior of various foreign states and movements toward Israel is more important in shaping Israeli perceptions of them and electoral responses than are the electoral preferences of those abroad. At the same time, though, the analysis of Israel and of Israeli politics by external factors is an important clue to their goals and conduct.
1) For comparison to earlier elections, see the author’s, “External Influences on Israel’s 1996 Election,” in Israel Affairs, Vol. 4 No. 1, Autumn 1997 and in Dan Elazar and Shmuel Sandler, Israel’s 1996 Election (Frank Cass, 1998). “U.S.-Israel Relations and Israel’s 1992 Elections,” in Asher Arian and Michal Shamir, Elections in Israel (SUNY Press, Albany, NY, 1994).
2) IsraelWire News Service, “Arab Countries Sending Journalists to Cover Elections,” Volume I, Issue 477, May 14, 1999; Isabel Kershner, “Old News Out, ‘Arabic CNN’ In,” Jerusalem Report, May 24, 1999.
3) Zvi Bar’el, “Who Arab leaders are voting for,” Ha’aretz, May 2, 1999.
4) See the author’s “Is The Arab-Israeli Conflict Over?” Middle East Quarterly, September 1996, for a discussion of some of these developments.
6) Zvi Bar’el, “Still an enemy, but an interesting one, Ha’aretz, May 16, 1999
7) Reuters, May 17, 1999. Perhaps the best single analysis of the Palestinian position regarding the elections was Ghassan Khatib, “The Palestinians and the Israeli Election,” Palestine Report, May 14, 1999.
8) Al-Ahram, al-Akhbar, May 17, 1999.
9) Jerusalem Post, February 5, 1999.
10) Daniel Sobelman, “For Arabs countries, the choice is obvious,” Ha’aretz, May 17, 1999.
11) Jerusalem Post. May 7, 1999.
12) Daniel Sobelman, “For Arabs countries, the choice is obvious,” Ha’aretz, May 17, 1999; Washington Post, May 13, 1999.
13) Mahmoud A. Mourad, al-Akhbar, May 16, 1999.
14) Zoe Danon Gedal, “Israel’s Elections: The View From the Arab World,” Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Peacewatch #208. May 3, 1999.
15) al-Akhbar, May 17, 1999.
16) Jerusalem Post, February 5, 1999.
17) Jerusalem Post, February 5, 1999.
18) Zoe Danon Gedal, “Israel’s Elections: The View From the Arab World,” Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Peacewatch #208. May 3, 1999.
19) Al-Ahram, May 16, 1999.
20) Jerusalem Post, February 5, 1999.
21) Jerusalem Post, February 5, 1999.
22) al-Akhbar, May 17, 1999.
23) Al-Ahram, May 17, 1999.
24) Jerusalem Post, February 5, 1999.
25) Zoe Danon Gedal, “Israel’s Elections: The View From the Arab World,” Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Peacewatch #208. May 3, 1999.
26) Al-Wafd, May 17, 1999.
27) Al-Akhbar, May 17, 1999.
28) Ha’aretz, April 27, 1999. Actually, this account was misleading since Syria had stopped the bilateral peace process by walking out of the talks when Labor was still in power.
29) UPI, March 18, 1999.
30) “Hezbollah: It’s business as usual,” Ha’aretz, May 11, 1999. The main source cited on Syria’s and Hezbollah’s policy was Ibrahim al-Amin, “a senior political columnist for al-Safir who is known for his close ties to the Syrian government.” Nasrallah is quoted by Agence France Presse, May 18, 1999.
31) Reuters, May 18, 1999.
32) Agence France Presse, May 18, 1999.
33) Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran, cited on the BBC, May 18, 1999.
34) Al-Riyadh, cited in Agence France Presse, May 18, 1999.
35) Ha’aretz, May 9 and May 16, 1999.
36) Reuters, May 17, 1999.
37) Jerusalem Post, February 5, 1999.
38) Fatah editorial, “Revolutionary Realism in the Balance: Varied Aspects in Israeli Elections Viewed,” January 15, 1999, Fatah website . It should be stressed, however, that the newsletter often did not represent the views of Arafat or the PA (see below). These editorials are usually written by Sakhr Habash. On his role in Palestinian politics, see the author’s The Transformation of Palestinian Politics (Harvard University Press: Cambridge, 1999), chapter 5.
40) Khaled Abu Toameh, “Arafat tries to figure out Israeli campaign,” Jerusalem Report, February 15, 1999.
41) Jerusalem Post, May 14, 1999. See also his interview in Newsweek, May 24, 1999.
42) Jerusalem Post, February 5, 1999.
43) Jerusalem Post, February 5, 1999; Jerusalem Report, April 26 and May 24, 1999.
44) Jerusalem Post, May 5, 1999.
45) Reuters, May 17, 1999.
46) Jawad Abu-Shamlah, “Israeli Elections and the Fourth of May,” al-Hayat al-Jadida, January 14, 1999. Although this was a PA-owned newspaper, it usually expressed the sentiments of harder-line PA supporters. The same was true for PA-appointed Muslim clerics, who suggested that there was little difference between the candidates from the Palestinian perspective. Agence France Presse, January 16, 1999.
47) Jerusalem Post, February 5, 1999.
48) Agence France Presse, May 18, 1999.
49) Reuters, May 18, 1999.
50) Reuters, May 17, 1999.
51) Cited in Zoe Danon Gedal, “Israel’s Elections: The View From the Arab World,” Washington Institute for Near East Policy Peacewatch #208, May 3, 1999.
52) Ha’aretz, May 16, 1999.
53) Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, January 10, 1999.
54) The speakers were Dr. As’ad Ghanim, Haifa University, “An Introduction to Analyzing the Israeli Electoral Situation”; Muhammad Baraka, Secretary General of the Democratic Front for Peace and Equality (Communist Party) “Horizons of the Israeli Electoral Map: The Arab Vote and the Possibility of Changing the Current Government”; Sami Elqasem, editor of “Kul al-‘Arab” in Haifa: “Political Transformations in the Arab Palestinian society within the Green Line”; Sakhr Habash (Abu Nizar), head of the FTND: and Dr. Ghanem Miz’il, Professor of Comparative Literature, Al-Najah University. The views of the Israeli Arab speakers are not discussed in any detail here, since these are internal Israeli standpoints outside the purview of this article. On the meetings, see Jerusalem Report, March 15, 1999.
55) Executive Summary, “Early Elections and Political Developments,” April 20, 1999. A conference held by the Fatah Bureau for Academic Affairs and Studies’ Forum of Thought and National Dialogue (FTND).
59) Yediot Ahronot, January 17, 1999.
60) Center for Palestine Research and Studies Survey Research Unit, Results of Poll #40, April 15-17, 1999. In a March 1999 poll taken by the Jerusalem Media and Communications Center, 50.2 percent of respondents answered that the political situation would remain the same if Labor took power, 18.8 percent said it would only get worse with Labor, and 6.5 percent gave no answer. Only 24.5 percent of respondents said that the Palestinian political situation would improve should the Labor Party win the upcoming elections. Ghassan Khatib, “The Palestinians and the Israeli Election,” Palestine Report, May 14, 1999.
62) Ha’aretz, May 9, 1999.
63) Associated Press, May 7, 1999.
64) Khaled Abu Toameh, “Arafat tries to figure out Israeli campaign,” Jerusalem Report, February 15, 1999.
65) See, for example, Agence France Presse, April 7, 1999, on some of the factors militating against a unilateral independence declaration.
66) Khaled Abu Toameh, “Arafat tries to figure out Israeli campaign,” Jerusalem Report, February 15, 1999.
67) Jerusalem Post, May 14, 1999; United Press International, February 10, 1999.
69) Editorial in Fatah’s internal newsletter, “Revolutionary Realism in the Balance,” January 15, 1999, . He made similar arguments in another editorial, “Triangles without Stars,” January 31, 1999.
70) Fatah Editorial, “May 4, 1999…or…?” February 28, 1999 on Fatah website: . For a discussion of these groups, see Barry Rubin, The Transformation of Palestinian Politics: From Revolution to State-Building, Chapter Five, (Harvard University Press: Cambridge University Press, 1999).
71) Jawad Abu-Shamlah, “Israeli Elections and the Fourth of May,” al-Hayat al-Jadida, January 14, 1999.
72) Ha’aretz, May 3, 1999; Jerusalem Post, May 5, 1999.
73) Ha’aretz, May 5, 1999. The newspaper listed benefits it said Clinton gave the PA: an implied commitment to support self-determination (Clinton repeated remarks made earlier, “The Palestinians should live free today, tomorrow and forever.”); permanent agreement to be based on the principle of land for peace; calling settlements called “destructive” (stronger than previous U.S. language). For the first time, the president used the word “partnership” to describe the U.S.-PA relationship. Until now, that figure of speech was reserved for U.S.-Israel relations. The letter also repeated American statements that the Palestinians had fulfilled their obligations under the Wye agreement and Israel had not done so.
74) Executive Summary, “Early Elections and Political Developments,” April 20, 1999. A conference held by the Fatah Bureau for Academic Affairs and Studies’ Forum of Thought and National Dialogue (FTND).
75) Triangles without Stars January 31, 1999 Fatah WWW Site
76) According to Palestinian sources, PA leaders and especially Abu Mazin were unhappy at Tibi’s behavior at the Wye talks, including his supplying information to foreign journalists about the inner workings of the Palestinian delegation.
77) Zoe Danon Gedal, “Israel’s Elections: The View from the Arab World, Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Peacewatch #208, May 3, 1999.
78) Ha’aretz, April 5, 1999.
79) Jerusalem Post, April 20, 1999; Reuters, April 19, 1999.
80) Zoe Danon Gedal, “Israel’s Elections: The View from the Arab World, Peacewatch #208, May 3, 1999.
81) Ha’aretz, April 19 and 20, 1999; Jerusalem Post, April 20, 1999.
82) Reuters, April 19, 1999.
83) Yoel Marcus, “A prince of darkness and hate,” Ha’aretz, May 7, 1999.
84) Ha’aretz, April 26 and May 2, 1999. A Palestinian research center even published a monograph on the U.S. election advisors. The Palestinian National Center for Strategic and Security Studies. Mohammad Hamza, “Americanization-Finkelsteinianism invades Israel” [In Arabic], (Maqdis, March-April 1999).
85) Washington Post, April 7, 1999. See also Ha’aretz, April 15, 1999.
86) Adam Nagourney, “Sound Bites Over Jerusalem,” New York Times, April 28, 1999.
88) Jerusalem Post, April 9, 1999.
89) See the author’s chapters, “U.S. Middle East Policy” in Bruce Maddy-Weitzman, Middle East Contemporary Survey, 1996, 1997, and 1998, Volumes 20-22.
90) New York Times, May 17, 1999; Reuters, April 27, 1999.
91) Reuters, April 27, 1999.
93) Ha’aretz, March 19, 1999; Jerusalem Report, April 12, 1999.
94) Ha’aretz, February 1, 1999; Yediot Aharonot, June 15, 1999. The Netanyahu government provided two examples, relating to the murders of David Boim and Nachshon Waxman.
95) Danna Harman, “Cohen ‘maintains US neutrality’ by meeting all PM candidates,” Jerusalem Post, March 14, 1999.
96) David Bar-Illan, “Why Bibi Fell,” National Review, June 14, 1999. A longer version of this article was also distributed over the internet.
98) New York Times, April 13, 1999.
99) Jerusalem Post, April 11, 1999.
100) Ha’aretz, March 14, 1999.
101) Ha’aretz, May 14, 1999; Associated Press, April 23, 1999.
102) Ibid.; Ha’aretz, April 20 and 22, 1999.
103) New York Times and Ha’aretz, May 19, 1999. For a detailed analysis of the results, see for example Muhammad El-Sayid Said in Al-Ahram Weekly, May 20-26, 1999.
104) Jerusalem Post, May 19, 1999.
105) New York Times, May 18, 1999.
106) Agence France Presse, May 18, 1999.
107) New York Times, May 19, 1999. For the Syrian reaction, see Washington Institute for Near East Policy, “Syrian Media and Government on Barak and the Peace Process: On The Record, Peacewatch #222, August 12, 1999.
Barry Rubin is Deputy Director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, Bar-Ilan University. He is Editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA). His latest book is The Transformation of Palestinian Politics: From Revolution to State-Building (Harvard University Press, 1999).