Israel Needs an Election

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has insisted on reform of the Palestinian Authority before he will resume peace talks. But ironically, with the breakup of his coalition government this week, it's Israel that now faces reform.

Mr. Sharon's coalition partner, the Labor Party, resigned ostensibly over the issue of spending $145 million to support Jewish settlements on the West Bank and Gaza. While party politics were a factor, Labor's stand was nonetheless the right one, especially since Israel's economy is shrinking and the poor and jobless need help.

Sharon, as leader of the right-wing Likud, will try to avoid an election by allying with a small, far-right party. That could push Israel to even rougher handling of the Palestinians, forcing a crisis with the United States at a time when it needs Arab support in a confrontation with Iraq.

Israel's military response to two years of suicide bombings has reached a limit, Labor leaders say, and now is the time for a political solution.

Both the question of the settlements and a post-Oslo political solution are two worthy issues that Labor could take to the voters if there were an election soon. With the US having just revealed a peace plan, now is the time for Israelis to vote on a new government, with a plain choice between Likud and Labor.

Labor might lose seats, as polls indicate, but at least Israel's stance will be clearer than the muddied position of the Labor-Likud coalition over the past 19 months.

The suicide bombings have hurt Israel's economy drastically. Rather than prop it (and the settlements) up with new money from the US, Sharon needs to let voters first make a choice.

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