[[Jerusalem Times: Opinion]]

 

January 13, 2006

 

This week in Israel….. Behind the news with Gershon Baskin

 

Likud on the decline

 

It began with Ehud Olmert giving in to US pressure to allow the Palestinians in East Jerusalem to participate in the upcoming elections on January 28. At the same time that Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz (Kadima) was announcing the decision to the press, Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom (Likud) was holding a press conference voicing the same old clichés that Israel will not allow the Palestinians in East Jerusalem to participate in elections because of the participation of the Hamas – a position, according to Shalom, that even the United States supports.  The message to Shalom was quite clear – it is time for the Likud to leave the government. Shalom, however did not want to leave and if he has to leave he would like to be the one to set the time and the way.  Instead, Shalom was once again taken by surprise, this time by Bibi Netanyahu who announced, without consulting his colleagues, that the four Likud ministers would be submitting their resignation on Thursday.  Netanyahu notified his colleagues that he expected to receive their letters of resignation by Wednesday eveningor Thursday morning.  The four ministers immediately went into consultations.  Bibi had set a trap for them by announcing the resignation on the morning of the Likud primaries.  If the Ministers didn’t adhere to Bibi, the Likud Central Committee might punish them for undermining the authority of the Chairman.  While none of the Ministers were available for comment to the media all day, Livnat, Naveh and Katz did hand Bibi their letters of resignation.  Only Shalom, who didn’t have to stand for elections, waited until the end of the day to announce that he would submit his resignation directly to the Government secretariat on Sunday morning (and not through Bibi). 

 

The Likud ministerial resignation affair launched the official beginning of stage two of the battle between Bibi and Shalom. Stage one ended with Bibi’s defeat of Shalom in the race for party leader. The brief ceasefire which ended with Bibi forcing Shalom to resign marked the end of any appearance of unity within the Likud. Following the defeat of the Likud in the March 25 elections, Shalom will begin his campaign to push out Bibi, unless Bibi resigns on his own.

 

The primaries in the Likud produced a very strange list of back benchers in the front. The list is right wing with most of the front runners being what could termed anti-disengagement “light”.  There was a 91% turn out – extremely high, meaning  that a large number of Kadima supporters who have no intention of voting for the Likud took part in the primary’s vote.  That is probably why the list looks so bizarre – political engineering by Sharon and Kadima loyalists inside of the Likud central committee.  Moshe Kachlon, a former aid to Uzi Landau, took the first place (after Bibi and Silvan Shalom).  He literally came out of no where to lead the list. Gilead Ardon, a young, smart and articulate lawyer came after Kachlon and up and coming rising star Gideon Saar was next. The real rebels who opposed Sharon were punished by the party and were placed in slots that will probably not make it into the next Knesset.  Uzi Landau, who led the rebels and thought of himself as a party leader was definitely the big loser of the primaries coming in the 12th place meaning that he will be number 14 on the Likud list.   Yisrael Katz beat Landau by two slots and Limor Livnat will get the number 10 slot because that is reserved for a woman, otherwise she would be lower on the list.

 

Shinui breaks apart?

 

Shinui has invented a strange form of democracy.  A collection of about 170 party supporters, many young lawyers amongst them, representing the secular, Tel Aviv, middle class makes up Shinui’s central council.  These people were selected to form the list for the Knesset.  Party leader and “Shinui chief Rabbi”  Tommy Lapid should have been a clear and easy winner, but that was not the case.  Lapid, who is singularly responsible for bringing Shinui its 15 seats in the outgoing Knesset is apparently also viewed as being singularly responsible for Shinui’s collapse in the polls.  In a fluke challenge to Lapid’s leadership, a rather unknown person, Itzik Gilead, got 67 votes against Lapid’s 87.  That was a bad start for Lapid and Shinui. Shinui’s system is that each slot is voted on separately and the winner must get at least 50% to pass.  For the number two slot there were two main contestants, Shinui party founder and Lapid ally Avraham Poraz and Ron Leventhal – who has been challenging Lapid’s absolute power within the party.  Leventhal won the second slot in a second round of voting with 93 votes against Poraz’s 72, and following that all hell broke loose. Poraz immediately announced that he was leaving Shinui. Lapid and several others announced that they too would leave.  Shinui without Lapid is a non-entity.  If Lapid can get eight MK’s from Shinui to break away from Shinui, he can contest Levanthal and anyone who stays with him and demand to take the party name with him.  The break-aways in addition to Lapid and Poraz include Ronny Brizon, Molly Polishuk-Bloch, Etty Livni, and Ilan Shalgi.  Lapid will probably be able to convince two more MK’s to join him and then to run the legal battle to take over the party without having to deal with the internal elections that didn’t produce the results that he wanted.  Two notes of interest in this story – if you don’t recognize the names of the Shinui MK’s- don’t worry – most of the Israeli public doesn’t recognize them either, and that’s only one of the reasons that Shinui is doing so poorly in the polls. The other point concerns the nature of elections, democracy and the rules of the game.  Democracy is wonderful when it works in your favor and a lot more difficult to accept when the results turn out against what you want – just a thought to keeping mind prior to the Palestinian national elections on January 25.

 

Other parties also select candidates

 

While the Labour party will be the only party holding open primaries (on January 17) many of the other parties are in the process of selecting their lists mostly through their central councils.  The National Unity party brings together Benny Eilon’s Moledet, Tekuma and Zionut Datit – both exiles from the National Religious Party. Benny Eilon will be in the first slot. Dr. Arieh Eldad will get the sixth slot on the list even though he won the second slot of Moledet, as a result Eldad might resign from the list all together.

 

The National Religious Party has Nissim  Slomianski running after Zevulan Orlev, Gila Finkelstein in the number 3 slot followed by Shaul Yahalom. Motty Yogev a new comer and a settler from Dolev took the next place. The bottom line is that the parties to the right of the Likud have nothing new and basically no one new to present to the public – more of the same.

 

Kadima kadima

 

Kadima continues to amaze the pollsters increasing in popularity every week.  In some polls this week, Kadima reached 45 seats.  Even more amazing (but predicted in this column last week) Ehud Olmert since stepping into the Prime Ministership has become the most trusted and popular candidate for the position of Prime Minister. Shimon Peres continues to make trouble behind the scenes for Olmert and Kadima, but in interviews claimed once again that he had no ambitions for any positions or for the number two slot on the list.  At the same time, unnamed sources, believed to be Peres’ people, were spreading untrue rumors that Olmert had agreed to appoint Peres as Foreign Minister and that Peres would get the number 2 slot in Kadima.   In the meantime, following the expected resignation of Silvan Shalom from the Foreign Ministry, which will become effective on Tuesday, Olmert is planning to appoint Tzipi Livni as the acting Foreign Minister until elections.  If Kadima manages to hold onto the Foreign Ministry position after elections and coalition negotiations, Livni’s short tenure in the post will provide her with a front runner advantage to hold on to the important portfolio.   She will be an excellent foreign minister and by appointing her, Olmert is demonstrating good judgment and real leadership.

 

In order to further strengthen Olmert’s leadership, he will be invited to Washington next month for his first White House visit as (acting) Prime Minister. Olmert may visit Cairo as well.  The one regional leader who Olmert should arrange a visit with will probably remain unvisited– that is Mahmoud Abbas.  It may be too late to help Abbas in his very uphill battle against Hamas, but it would be a positive sign of from Olmert of an Israeli desire to see a moderate leadership in Ramallah if he were to visit Abbas or invite Abbas to Jerusalem.

 

 

Win some, lose some

 

Defense Minister Mofaz finally gave the orders to dismantle some of the unauthorized outposts.  Neve Daniel north was the first target this week. The settlers know that this is beginning of the battle for the West Bank. The settler leadership didn’t show up to face the army, instead a small gang of radical fanatic settlers were there in full force and violence against the soldiers. The army managed to remove the settlers and demolish one building.  The settler leadership knew that Neve Daniel north was a bad place for them to begin the struggle for the West Bank because it was clearly built on privately owned Palestinian land.  The next battles will be more difficult.  The settlers have once again petitioned the High Court for a stay of judgment on Amona near Ofra where the army will have to demolish some nine buildings.  Amona will be the settlers “Alamo” in the new phase of their struggle against the State.  Along with Amona are the shops in downtown Hebron that the settlers took over after forcing the Palestinian owners out.  Now four years later the army is finally going to take action. 

 

Shin Bet head Yuval Disken reported to the Knesset this week that the police and army have completely failed in preventing Palestinian olive trees from being destroyed by settlers and that they have failed to bring the criminals to justice.  In the past month, Israeli human rights organization “Yesh Din” (there is law) reported on more than 2000 olive trees that have been cut down by settlers.  Some MK’s (who must be living on a different planet) said that the Palestinians must be lying because they never submit complaints to the police against the settlers so the cases are never opened and investigated.  Yesh Din has been taking Palestinians to issue complaints and to demand investigations.  The police stations in the West bank are all located inside of settlements.  In most cases, even if the Palestinians wanted to issue complaints to the police, they wouldn’t manage to get past the front gates of the settlements to get to the police stations. Once there, they wouldn’t be able to convince the police to take the complaints and anyway they don’t believe that any real investigations would be carried our, and even if carried out, there would be no justice – so what’s the point?

 

Jerusalem elections for Palestinians?

 

As written above and as I predicted from the beginning, the government of Israel will allow the Palestinians to hold their elections in Jerusalem.  The Israelis are trying to put all kinds of restrictions on the Palestinians like having only 5 public places where they can post their posters or having only 5 polling stations in the city.  The Palestinians are demanding 44 places to hang posters and at least 15 polling places.  In the meantime, Palestinians are hanging their campaign posters all over the walls and storefronts throughout East Jerusalem. They probably won’t get the 15 polling places they want but they will campaign freely and openly all over East Jerusalem.  Even the Hamas’ Reform and Change party held a party rally in Kalandia without being opposed by the Israeli police.  Olmert has stated that Hamas will not be able to have any party tickets in the polling places in Jerusalem with the name Hamas on it.  There is no party called “Hamas” in the race and therefore Hamas’ party should be able to participate.  Palestinian elections will go on as scheduled, with the East Jerusalem issue out of the way, the only excuse (and not a small one) that the Palestinians may have for postponing elections is the lack of law and order and total chaos throughout the Palestinian territories.

 

Newspapers and the news

 

Maariv newspaper reported this week that IPCRI was planning to established an East Jerusalem company that would provide municipal services to the Palestinians of East Jerusalem.  This was not what IPCRI reported to the public.  IPCRI had reported about an idea that we developed and presented on how the Palestinians could legally establish a body that could serve as a shadow municipality and eventually turn into an independent Palestinian municipality for east Jerusalem.  The idea is to establish a non-profit public benefit shareholders corporation called the east Jerusalem development company.  The shareholders would be every Palestinian in East Jerusalem above the age of 18.  These shareholders would then elect a Board of trustees for the corporation.  The corporation would then raise funds from donors and perhaps collect a shareholder’s fee and then provide services on a commercial basis, replacing the Jerusalem municipality which does not provide many services to east Jerusalem anyway.  In correction to the Maariv article, IPCRI has no intention to establish this company.  That is something that the Palestinian leadership of East Jerusalem must do – but I suppose, first there needs to be some leadership in East Jerusalem that is willing to stand up and take responsibility.  Perhaps after the Palestinian elections, some new leadership figures will emerge. Perhaps after the elections, all of the six representatives of Jerusalem in the Palestinian parliament will decide to do something constructive for improving the lives of the people of East Jerusalem. In shalla.