In poignantly low voter turnout, the Knesset ended up being more fragmented than ever. However, a party dedicating itself to centrism and the sort-of-new Olmert, won most seats - 28 out of 120. I don't know if anyone has figured out precisely what mandate this gives the new Olmert government yet, but it seems a strong supposition that Olmert will establish - unilaterally, bilaterally, or multilaterally - the borders between the (Arab) state of Palestine and the state of Israel.
I'm not going to pretend to understand the dynamics of Israeli politics - it's unbelievably complex and confusing unless you study and discuss it every day - but I did find this discussion in Ha'aretz interesting.
The article is an argument between Ari Shavit and Chaim Ramon, in which they mostly agree on the end state (or rather states) but can't agree on the protocol for getting there.
It seems that if Israel simply declared its borders unilaterally, we have borders without peace; giving Israel's enemies every pretext to continue fighting. But if Israel holds out for a permanent settlement, then this may a) take too long; and b) cost too much in terms of security.
In spite of all the talk about the lopsided nature of the conflict, it seems to me that Israel has a terrible negotiating position. There is no question that Israel can inflict greater suffering on the Palestinians than vice versa, and only raving anti-Zionists like Kåre Willoch might believe that things couldn't get worse.
But Israelis are by and large sick of a policy that consists of inflicting suffering. As passive, effective, and relatively benign as the separation barrier is, the hardship it inflicts on Palestinians is a source of shame for Israel. They worry about the souls of their sons and daughters who guard the checkpoints and barriers throughout the territories. They are getting impatient with the status quo, and though they are angry and resentful at the Palestinians, they would rather stay away from them than constantly fight and hurt them.
Most Israelis would rather make Jews in Gush Katif and the West Bank unsettled than continue to put the Palestinians through the indignity of roadblocks, checkpoints, and barriers.
Daniel Pipes believes that this sentiment has translated into a losing strategy, in the sense that if this is a war, Israel doesn't seem to want to win.
It's been my experience that as messy as Israeli politics are, there is a certain level of pragmatism in the broad center. Kadima was formed on the premise that neither the hard, uncompromising line of Likud, nor the forgiving, kind approach of Ha'Avodah would work. The Palestinians would neither give up as Likud wanted, nor be persuaded by kindness, as Ha'Avodah wanted. Kadima basically proposes to impose a peace agreement on the Palestinians by putting them behind a border.
In other words, Palestinians would have to face the choice between being Hamastan, bent on destroying Israel; or a democratic innovation in the Arab world. Israel would fight and win a war with the former and be a friend to the latter.
What bothers me about Pipes's perspective is that it doesn't make clear what it would take for the Palestinians to concede defeat, and, from the Palestinian point of view, what would be bearable terms under capitulation. In his book The Case for Peace, Alan Dershowitz points to a prevalent attitude toward Palestinians, which is that there must be some reward for their suffering - if they turned away Barak's offer in Taba in favor of the Second Intifadah, then what they get should be something more than what they turned away.
For millennia in the Middle East (and most other places) conflicts have been resolved through brutal violence. Saddam Hussein kept Shi'a, Kurdish, and Assyrian minorities in check under threat of torture and murder. Leaders have chosen similar courses of action in Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, and even Jordan in our lifetimes, and it's happening right now in the Sudan.
Israel certainly has the military means to do something that brutal, and the far right fringe in Israel advocates the idea of "transfer," which would really be "forced, but hopefully not lethal ethnic cleansing."
But most Israelis, and the countries with which Israel would like to count as its friends, could not contemplate anything like that. A fact that, apparently, at least some Palestinian groups see as an advantage for them and a sign of weakness for Israel.
This, I think, has to change. Unless the Palestinian popular opinion truly embraces the virtue of negotiation, concession, and compromise, the impasse will continue, whether or not Palestinians and Jews are neighbors on the West Bank. And by "truly embrace" I don't mean high-handed political rhetoric by Saeb Erakat or Hanan Ashrawi. There needs to be a re-education of the Palestinians.