The Knesset has voted to hold elections on March 28 of next year - six months ahead of schedule. Ariel Sharon is currently leading in the polls, yet his victory is not guaranteed. Meanwhile, the Palestinian Authority is preparing to hold its long-overdue elections in January. This week Fatah held primary elections to choose its candidates. However the voting had to be suspended due to violence and accusations of fraud. Since the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza as part of the Road Map Peace Plan the Palestinian Authority seems to have grown more and more chaotic. For the time being, it appears that the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations have been put on hold.
The Israeli withdrawal from Gaza has been met with both criticism and support. Controversy over the withdrawal is what ultimately lead to the fracturing and re-alignment of Israel's leadership. Many believe that the withdrawal was necessary for Israel's security and hope that establishment of a Palestinian state will put an end to the violence. However the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not so straightforward. There are no easy answers or simple explanations. The deeper you dig, the more complicated it becomes.
As we have said before, the most difficult part of the peace process is not the establishment of a Palestinian state, but the terms on which it is established. Palestinians have demanded the complete withdrawal of Israel from all the occupied areas back to the 1967 border, the dismantling of all Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza that are home to some 250,000 Jews, a Palestinian capitol in east Jerusalem, the right of return for all Palestinian refugees to Israel, the removal of Israeli roadblocks, the release of some 8,000 Palestinians being detained in Israeli jails and military prisons, and the dismantling of the controversial barrier wall.
The right of return for the refugees is a constant source of friction between the Palestinians and Israelis. The Palestinians argue that according to a 1948 UN General Assembly resolution, they have a right to live in what is now Israel. Those who left during the 1948-49 war and their descendants now number roughly 4 million, and Israel argues that it can in no way accept such a potentially huge influx of Palestinians. The controversy has caused a multitude of problems in the past. Rather than being integrated into the general populations of the countries where they fled, the majority of refugees have remained in refugee camps under deplorable conditions. The Arab states do not want the refugees and, with the exception of Jordan, they are unwilling to give them citizenship. If the refugees were allowed to return to Israel, the Palestinian population would quickly outnumber the Jewish population. Former Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser – a key player in the Six Day War who openly advocated the destruction of Israel - told an interviewer on September 1, 1961: If the refugees return to Israel, Israel will cease to exist.
Ariel Sharon's departure from the Likud and the promise of early parliamentary elections has lead many to speculate. Yet there does not seem to be any consensus among commentators on what effect recent events will have on the future of the nation of Israel
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