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What To Believe?
by Judy Lash Balint
May 28, 2003

When Israel's Cabinet Ministers passed judgement on the Road Map earlier this week, eyebrows were raised over the votes of some cabinet members.

Voting to accept the Road Map resolution were Likud ministers Shaul Mofaz (Defense), Ehud Olmert (Industry, Trade & Labor), Tzippy Livni (Immigration), Gideon Ezra and Meir Sheetrit (Ministers without portfolio) and Silvan Shalom (Foreign Ministry).

Abstaining from the vote were fellow Likudniks, Benyamin Netanyahu (Finance), Limor Livnat (Education), Dan Naveh (Health) and Tzahi Hanegbi (Internal Security)

Given that the Road Map gives the green light for the establishment of a Palestinian state, many Likud voters were shocked by the actions of these supposed right-wingers.

Their surprise was based on the statements of many of these ministers in the months leading up to the Road Map vote.

On March 16, 2003, Tzachi Hanegbi, for example, wrote in a letter to a Likud Central Committee member : "..specific disagreement must be expressed with the "Bush vision" of establishing a Palestinian state, as well as the other negative aspects in the (June 24, 2002) speech."

Likudniks could be excused for their strong reaction to the Road Map vote of many of their ministers, since it was almost exactly one year ago that the Likud Central Committee voted overwhelmingly against the creation of a Palestinian state.

In the wake of that vote, Benyamin Netanyahu, foreign minister at the time, said the referendum should be interpreted as a policy issue on how to relate to Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat.

"The question is: Do we reward the campaign of terror that Arafat has launched against us for 18 months with the promise of a Palestinian state that could turn into a fortress of terror against us? And people resoundingly said 'No.' They don't want that," Netanyahu stated.

A few months later, after meetings with his counterpart in Russia, Netanyahu reiterated his view of the Road Map: "No matter what road map is put before us, if the other driver doesn't want to get to peace, no road map will help."

At the beginning of May, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz told the Israeli Cabinet that the road map in its current form was "bad for Israel," was not in the country's security interests and would not be possible to implement in its current form. He added that the election as prime minister of Washington's chosen replacement for Yasser Arafat-Mahmoud Abbas, known as Abu Mazen-had not produced any significant change in the Palestinian Authority's attitude toward terror.

Just after the appointment of Abbas, Minister Ehud Olmert told the Foreign Press Association that Israel would walk away from any peace plan if Palestinian attacks continue.

"I say in the most unequivocal way that if there will be terror, there will not be progress. If it will not end, don't expect anything. It's as simple as that." The Road Map vote took place exactly one week after a homicide bomber blew up a bus in Jerusalem killing seven Israelis.

But more recently, a close read of the words of some of the Likud ministers should have provided an inkling of what was to come.

Tzippy Livni's interview with journalist Zohar Shavit days before the Road Map vote laid out the new philosophy of some Likud leaders. "It is sterile to oppose the creation of a Palestinian state," she said. "My party is mainly concerned with security," "These are not ideological arguments."

"What's more, our opposition to certain subjects has prevented us from submitting our own plan to the international community. This gives the impression we are on the defensive, frozen in an attitude of refusal, incapable of taking the initiative. We have not succeeded in stopping the process; we are simply excluded from it. Some of us are still focused on denying the Palestinian state instead of negotiating."

Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, one of the first to demand the expulsion of Arafat, and a former adamant opponent of a Palestinian state, echoes Livni's views. "There is a chance for a new Middle East. After the war in Iraq, the rules of the game changed. Whoever sticks to the old rules won't be in the game."

Just before last week's vote, Shalom told Shalom Yerushalmi of Ma'ariv: "The road map wishes to believe that there is a new opening for peace. I believe in the beginning of change, and am acting as if we are on the brink of a new era."

Will Likud supporters be persuaded? Minister Livni doesn't sound too sure: "If the Palestinian Authority clearly takes real measures against terrorist organizations, I think there are good chances the Likud center will back this peace initiative with the support of its voters. Admittedly, I am talking about the center of the Likud and not the totality of Likud voters. Nevertheless, the center will back a compromise if convinced our security is assured."