Leading Article: Israel needs a leader with a sense of history

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The Independent Culture
BENJAMIN NETANYAHU'S fall from power in Israel is hardly a surprise. For two-and-a-half years he has flirted with disaster, turning this way and that, feinting towards peace when the eyes of the world were on him, and then throwing scraps to his hard-line supporters when he thought he could get away with it. "Peace with security", he called it; but his premiership turned out to herald political stagnation and territorial insecurity.

New elections will ensure an unwelcome few months more of instability and uncertainty in Israel. Policy towards the Palestinians will be frozen until a new prime minister and cabinet are established in Tel Aviv.

At this stage, no one knows who will take power. We shall have to hold our breath while we wait to see what emerges, but as long as Mr Netanyahu and his allies do not survive, the wait will be well worth it.

Netanyahu's premiership has served only to divide Israelis. Now that nation needs a leader with a historic sense of mission, strong and confident enough to compromise over the creation of a Palestinian state. The assassination of Yitzhak Rabin has been felt ever more deeply as the Oslo peace accords have fallen apart. A prime minister who can live up to the best in the Israeli tradition - a Ben-Gurion, or even a Begin - is desperately needed.

Perhaps Ehud Barak, a tough soldier and forthright speaker, just as Rabin was, will be that man. Or the popular Lieutenant-General Lipkin Shahak, who has yet to announce his candidature. A realignment of parties, with small centre groupings and dissident Likud elements uniting around a saner platform than Mr Netanyahu's, is a possibility. Only one thing is certain: the religious zealotry and self-defeating folly of this government should not be allowed to return through the division of its opponents.