JERUSALEM—On March 28, Israel elected a new government led by Kadimah, a party that didn't exist six months ago. On March 29, a new Palestinian government was sworn in, led by Hamas—a party that has never held power before. Is this a new beginning, or another dead end?
Hamas leaders say they want a period of peace. "I think this government is meaning really to put an end to any kind of bloodshed, for the Palestinians first and for others as well," Aziz Dweik, speaker of the Palestinian parliament, said last week. Israel's new leader, Ehud Olmert, spoke of living "in a state of peace and quiet."
That would be desirable after all of the dramatic surprises that have transformed Israel's political landscape in the last seven months: Israel's withdrawal from Gaza; the defeat of veteran statesman and Nobel Prize laureate Shimon Peres for leader of the Labor Party; the decision of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to leave the Likud Party and start Kadimah, a new party of the center; Sharon's stroke and departure from the political scene; and the Hamas victory in the Palestinian election.
As recently as last summer, no one could have imagined any of this. The old order has collapsed. Nothing signified that more than the collapse of Israel's Likud Party in last month's election. Likud went from 32 percent of the vote in 2003 to just 9 percent on March 28. David Makovsky of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy observed that Labor was the dominant party for Israel's first 29 years (1948-1977). Then Likud dominated Israeli politics for the next 29 years (1977-2006).