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How Does Arab World View Sharon's Call for Early Elections? - 2002-11-06

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's decision to call early elections is the subject of analysis in the Arab world a day after he called for the vote. His decision follows the collapse of his unity government. The focus of the opinions is on what the political shake-up in Israel could mean for the Arab world.

Political analysts are divided over the long term implications of the early elections in Israel, tentatively scheduled for January.

Walid Kazziha is a political science professor at American University in Cairo. He believes the political turmoil could create a platform for what he calls voices of peace in Israel to oppose Ariel Sharon's Likud Party. These voices, he said, should be encouraged by Arab states.

"I think the grounds have been paved for the emergence of an Israeli opposition to the Likudist and those on the far right. I think the Arab governments as well as the Palestinian Authority could play an important role in encouraging and in assisting the emergence of an Israeli opposition and a public opinion inside Israel for a peaceful settlement," he said.

On Tuesday, another Likud leader, former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced he would challenge Mr. Sharon for leadership of the Likud party, suggesting, if elected, he would get tough on the Palestinians.

Uraib el-Rantawi is director of the Quds Center for Political Studies in Jordan. He said the re-emergence of Mr. Netanyahu could spell bad news for the Palestinians and the rest of the Arab world. He believes an even more conservative government could emerge from Israel's early elections.

"All the polls in Israel show that maybe the new government in Israel will be also a right wing government. Maybe it will be formed by the Likud and (its) allies among the right wing camp in Israel and this will be not helpful for the peace process," Mr. El-Rantawi said.

Another analyst, Sami Baroudi of the Lebanon-American University, says in the weeks between now and the election, Egypt and Jordan, the only two Arab states with signed peace treaties with Israel, should attempt to encourage the development of a peace camp within the Israeli government. But Mr. Baroudi acknowledges that not all Arab states are interested in a more moderate Israeli government.

"There are voices in the Arab world who would like to see a more moderate government emerging in Israel. Now whether these voices speak for all the Arabs I really doubt it. Probably some Arab capitals would like to see a radical government just so the country would be discredited in the eyes of international opinion. Or they think that if there is a radical government in Israel that would put a distance between Israel and the United States," he said.

Mr. Baroudi said there are also Arab regimes that depend on the Israeli-Palestinian crisis as a means of diverting attention from their own internal domestic problems. He said if peace were to occur, those regimes would be threatened by public anger over deteriorating living conditions and the lack of political reforms.