Fourteen Likud members of parliament and two from the main opposition Labor Party joined him in launching a new political formation called Kadima, or Forward. Shimon Peres, head of the Labor Party until recently, quit Labor and pledged to support the prime minister saying, Only Sharon can bring peace, dismantle settlements.
Already the Kadima Party came out in front in opinion polls commissioned by two of the main Israeli dailies, with Likud in third place behind Labor. New elections are set for March 28.
The aim of the realignment, Sharon said, is to lay the foundation for a peace agreement in which we will determine the permanent borders of the state of Israel. Likud is a rightist party founded by Sharon in 1973 under the banner of conceding not one inch of territory taken by the state of Israel from Palestinians forced off their land or the surrounding Arab states. It has sought to put into practice the Zionist movements goal of expanding the state of Israel through Jewish settlement all the way from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea.
The Zionist dream of Greater Israel has collapsed, however, leading to the Likud split. A historic decline in Jewish immigration to Israelthe logic of which has been accepted for a while by top Israeli politiciansis the main underlying factor.
Israeli deputy prime minister Ehud Olmert had long been convinced that the failure of western Jews to immigrate in large numbers meant that the notion of Greater Israel must yield to the demographic necessity of a two-state solution, wrote Robert Zelnick in the Boston Globe November 23, referring to a mid-August interview with the Israeli politician. When Sharon finally embraced unilateral separation, Olmert pledged his 100 percent support, the article stated. It added that Olmert told Sharon, You have to get ready for a dramatic political change, because the Likud will not survive this.
Ideologically, we are disappointed, Arye Mekel, Israels consul general in New York, told the New York Times in August. A pure Zionist must be disappointed because Zionism meant the Jews of the world would take their baggage and move to Israel. Most did not.
Dwindling Jewish immigration
Last August, the Israeli daily Haaretz reported that the Jews for the first time comprise less than 50 percent of the population in the territories under Tel Avivs control.
A minority of the Jewish people worldwide5.26 million of the total 13 millionlive in Israel. More Jews live in the United States today than Israel.
In 2004, Sharon told a New York Times reporter that he had a goal of increasing Israels Jewish population through immigration over the next 15 years by 1 millionan average of 67,000 a year. That year, however, only 21,000 immigrated.
Recently, at least as many Israelis have been leaving the country as those moving in, and a trend of a net outflow may have begun. According to Israels Central Bureau of Statistics, the number of Israelis leaving the country outpaced immigration in 2003, with a net emigration of 9,000 Israelis. That figure topped 11,000 in 2004 and was over 50,000 in the first nine months of this year.
Of the 1 million Russian Jews that immigrated to Israel in the last three decades, especially in the 1990s after the breakup of the Soviet Union, an estimated 100,000 have returned to Russia in the past few years, the Times of London reported in April. Many came to Israel because of restrictions on immigration of Russian Jews to the United States and European countries. Some used it as a way station to eventually get into those countries.
At the same time, Israel has become more dependent on food imports, due in part to a labor shortage in the rural areas. Imports of agricultural goods remained nearly equal to exports through the 1980s, but over the past decade they have grown to nearly double the exports.
At the same time, the Palestinian population in the occupied territories has continued to grow at a rate of 5 percent a year. There are more than 3.7 million Palestinians living in the occupied territories and another 1.3 million inside Israel. At that rate, the Palestinian population in Israel and the occupied territories will soon outpace the Jewish population.
It is this demographic and political reality, combined with the inability of the Israeli rulers to quell the struggle of the Palestinian people for their land, that have forced Sharon and others to give up on the Zionist colonizers dream of conquering Greater Israel.
Instead, for a weighty section of the Israeli ruling class the key to ensuring the long-term viability of Israel as a stable junior imperialist power in the Middle East is retreating to borders they feel Tel Aviv can police and legitimize. They are pressing for a settlement, on their terms, that will insulate Israel from the Palestinian national struggle.
For the first time in its history, the Israeli government last year shut down some small settlement outposts. This summer, some 7,500 Israeli settlers and tens of thousands of Israeli troops that guaranteed their existence were withdrawn from the Gaza Strip, home to 1.3 million Palestinians. On November 25, the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) took full control for the first time of a border crossing from Gaza into Egypt.
There is no peace
The Israeli government is making these moves without establishing a formal peace with the leadership of the Palestinian struggle. Its recent steps, like the Gaza pullout, are unilateral facts on the ground. The Israeli regime has taken them while showing its determinationthrough blood and ironto hold on to Jerusalem and sections of the West Bank with the largest Jewish settlements. This will lead to further resistance by the dispossessed Palestinians in spite of the exhaustion of their second intifada (uprising).
Since his election in 2001, Sharon has overseen the systematic physical elimination, either through assassination or imprisonment, of much of the active cadre and leadership of Hamas and other groups that have carried out martyrdom bombings and other armed attacks on Israeli targets.
In 2002, Israel launched its largest military assault since the invasion of Lebanon, encircling the major cities in the West Bank.
Sharons administration has built a substantial section of a 400-mile wall that redraws the border of Israel to include at least 11 percent of the West Bank and 75 percent of the Israeli settlements there. In an interview reported in the Aug. 15, 2004, New York Times, Brig. Gen. Eival Gilady, the architect of the wall, said it was intended to send two messages: One, to Palestinians, that there is a price in land to continuing the conflict; two, to the settlers, that there is less of a future for them on the Palestinian side of the line.
Washingtons offensive in the Middle East has also prodded the Israeli rulers along this course. Washington has used its war and occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan to deepen its relations with the Israeli regime and its military and intelligence apparatus. Tel Aviv has benefited from the presence of 160,000 U.S. troops in Iraq.
Its not surprising that monumental changes that are taking place all around them in the Middle Eastin Iraq, in Lebanon, all around the Middle Eastare also causing monumental changes in the psychology of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict…in the politics of both the Palestinian territories and in Israel, U.S. secretary of state Condoleezza Rice said November 22, commenting on Likuds split.
A number of governments of majority Arab or Muslim countries have already taken the first steps toward normalizing relations with Israel. The government of Pakistan, for example, opened diplomatic channels with Tel Aviv in September. On November 25, as a condition of entry into the World Trade Organization, the regime of Saudi Arabia ended its economic boycott of Israel.
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