[[Jerusalem Times: Opinion]]

 

November 25, 2005

 

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

 

 

The bulldozers moves “Forward”

 

Sharon once again proved that rules don’t apply to him.  Bolting the Likud, a political force that he gave birth to during the Begin era, now creating “Kadima (Forward)” -  his new political party, while serving as Prime Minister is unprecedented, probably throughout the world. There is little doubt that had Sharon stayed in the Likud he would have led that party to victory in the next elections.  His decision to bolt the Likud was motivated by the fact that the most popular Members of Knesset from that party are the so-called rebels who have made Sharon’s life in the Likud political hell. These rebels had no intention of allowing Sharon to move forward with any plans of further withdrawals and re-deployments in the West Bank. So instead, Sharon left them in the dust, riding high in the seat of the bulldozer, turned left and picking up 13 Likud ministers and MK’s and probably tens of Likud mayors and other activists.

 

In the short-term, those who jumped on board with Sharon will be rewarded with a sure place in the next Knesset without having to stand for primaries - with all of the associated expenses and aggravations. Sharon will personally select the list for his new party – there is no membership, no institutions, and no constitution -  basically there is no party. In the longer run, it is likely that Sharon’s Kadima is a one-time affair. In four years from now, Sharon will be out of the political arena and Kadima will move forward into oblivion. Without Sharon at its helm, there is no party and those who join it now, leaving their original political homes will find it more than difficult to find a welcome mat in front of the old doors (or even new ones).

 

On the other hand, most of those Likudniks who stayed loyal to the Likud will find themselves out of the next Knesset.  The polls are showing that the Likud under the leadership of any of the six candidates there will get only 13 seats. Sharon will bring Kadima between 33-34 seats; Labour 26-28 and Shinui will drop from 15 seats to five.

 

Everyone against everyone else

 

The Likud Central Council meeting under acting Chairman Tzaki Hangebi (considered the most corrupt member of Knesset for appointing cronies)  - set dates for their primaries. Six candidates coveting the position of chairman: Bibi Netanyahu, Minister of Defense Shaul Mofaz, Minister of Foreign Affairs Silvan Shalom, Minister of Agriculture Yisrael Katz,  rebel leader Dr. Uzi Landau, and right-wing crazy Moshe Feiglin.  Everyone knows that the Likud internal battle will be a war of all against all. There will be few survivors left on the battle field.  In fear of the bloody result Health Minister Dan Naveh endeavored to produce an accord to wage a clean campaign that will not damage what is left of the party's unity. All of the candidates have signed the accord but documents are only made of paper.  The battle for the Likud leadership must be a depressing one because all of the candidates and the voters know that they are selecting the next leader of the opposition. Only a masochist would wish to lead a party that just yesterday had 40 seats in the Knesset knowing that their leadership will assist in achieving the result of 13 seats.

 

The Likud primaries will take place in three rounds.  The first two rounds for chairman will be held on 19th and the 26th of December.  Round three to set the list will be held on January 3, 2006.

 

Bibi Netanyahu will present himself as the only candidate with proven leadership in the Prime Minister’s office. Bibi will also present his economic reforms and his record in the international financial markets as economic wizardry. Bibi’s main problem is that his economic policies may have had a positive macro-economic impact, but at the micro level of the voters, Bibi hurt a lot of people from the lower economic status groups who are traditional supporters the Likud. Bibi is still considered by these people popular despite his lack of compassion and his arrogance. Bibi still resonates for them a sense of national pride. Bibi is the ultimate populist and his skills in verbal demagoguery could be taught in universities around the world.  Bibi is likely to come out on top of the Likud primaries and after leading the Likud into the opposition, once again, maybe he will finally leave politics for good.

 

Silvan Shalom is very popular in the Likud Central council. Silvan also has large financial reserves in his wife’s bank accounts badly needed to oil the wheels of his campaign quite effectively. Silvan will highlight his successes as Minister of Foreign Affairs - he has worked effectively and successfully in establishing diplomatic contacts with countries that have been on the boycott Israel list for years.  The recent visit of a delegation from Pakistan to Jerusalem is the latest feather in Silvan’s cap following his successful visit to his former homeland Tunisia. The Likud central council is much more interested in much more mundane issues such as how many of their members are serving as Ambassadors.  Silvan doesn’t have much to show in this arena and his popularity in the Central council probably won’t help his candidacy very much.

 

Shaul Mofaz is very popular in the Likud branches around the country. He has devoted a large amount of time and IDF resources to visit just about every Likud branch around the country in the past two years. Mofaz may have many troops in the field, but he lacks them inside of the central council that will select the chairman. Mofaz also has a good friend and colleague in the White House.  In their book “Boomerang” Drucker and Shelech have written that Mofaz doesn’t waste his valuable time reading books. I am sure that Mofaz and Bush would probably find a lot more than that in common if they have the opportunity to meet in the future. But if Mofaz does end up visiting the White House in the coming years he will probably be there as a tourist.

 

Dr. Uzi Landau, by far the most colorful and interesting Likud candidate, presents a record of firmness on issues of security activism, social responsibility and clean politics. Landau states his positions more clearly than politicians anywhere in the world.  He presents a sense of consistency that cross the borders of boredom – let the man speak for himself: “I am presenting the same positions I presented three years ago that led the Likud to the huge victory -   we have to bring the Likud back to itself- i haven't zig-zaged. We need real leaders who do not change their agenda on a seasonal basis”.

 

Minister of Agriculture Katz doesn’t stand a chance and is only running to raise his position in the list.  He is even more reminiscent of the old bull-dog Likud than Uzi Landau and although his record of performance in the Ministry of Agriculture should leave him outside of politics and government entirely, he will probably win a high place on the list – it’s a good thing he will be in the opposition.

 

Likud already in the opposition

 

Israeli politics are very strange. The Prime Minister announced that he is leaving his party.  He takes 13 other Ministers and coalition MK’s with him.  He calls for new elections against the political party that elected him and that he brought into government. One would think that after resigning from his party and calling for new elections that he and those who bolt the ruling party would have to resign from government and sit in the opposition until elections. But that’s not the way it works.  Instead it seems that the Likud is in the opposition now to its former chairman and Prime Minister. The Likud Ministers in the government must now decide if they remain or resign.  The Prime Minister has to decide if he lets them remain or if he is to fire them.  Elections won’t be held until March 28 – that’s a long time to rule without clear rules of engagement.  What will Sharon do with the issue of passing a new budget?  He clearly doesn’t have a majority for the new budget.  How can he possibly govern over the next 120 days? Lots of questions, very few answers.

 

Sharon and Peretz picking up steam

 

The most mysterious man in Israeli politics today is Shimon Peres.  It is hard to imagine that any new leader would want Peres too close by on Election Day.  On the other hand, few people in the world have the experience and insights of Shimon Peres and he could be an asset post elections. Both Sharon and Peretz have said that Peres is welcome in their camp. Peres has hinted that he is remaining in the Labour party. He has not indicated if he will be tossing his hat into the primary contest.  If Shimon happens to be reading this, I plead with him to retain the status of elder statesman – something his should have done years ago.  Stay out of politics Shimon – you were never good at it and it cheapens what you really have to offer.

 

It looks like Sharon has successfully brought on board Professor Uriel Reichman, the founder and president of the Herzliyeh Interdisciplinary Center, Former head of the Manufacturer’s Association Oded Tira, and former Shin Bet Director security super-star Avi Dichter. Amir Peretz super acquisition of the week is outgoing Ben Gurion University President, former World Bank official Prof. Avishay Braverman.  With the exception of Dichter, these are good additons to the Israeli political arena.

 

The Race is almost on

 

Sharon’s strategists are urging that they place their main attention in the direction of Amir Peretz.  One of these strategists said "We won’t run against Bibi because he is a threat to the National Union, not to us. This is a race between a proven leader like Sharon, who thinks things through and knows what he is doing, and an extreme leftist, inexperienced, strike instigator with a mustache."  The main challenge to Sharon is likely to be found in Labour, but there must also be an awareness that Sharon and Peretz will sit together in the next government – and if polls are correct, they won’t need to bring in other parties with them (although the probably will anyway).

 

Peretz will aim his attacks both to the right and to the left.  He will take positions that drift away from what he really believes in order to create space between Labour and Meretz.  That explains Peretz’s recent remarks about united Jerusalem and authorizing new building in Maaleh Adumim.  In a strange yet probably undetected remark, Peretz noted that he approved of the additional housing in Maaleh Adumim because it is consistent with the Geneva Accords of Yossi Belien and Yasser Abed Rabbo.

 

According to the polls, both Meretz and Shinui will drift into oblivion. Peretz will work on pulling in voters from both Meretz and Shinui.  Many Shinui voters will transfer their support from Tommy Lapid to Ariel Sharon.  Sharon will end up attacking Bibi and the Likud although this will be more difficult for him to do than attacking Peretz, but he will need to constantly defend his reasons for leaving the Likud – those reasons will be running the Likud and he will have to pound into them.  The Likud will have to aim some attention to the far right, but the Likud will lose almost all of its support in the settlements, having failed to prevent the disengagement from Gaza. The more united the radical right becomes; the stronger they will be in the next Knesset.  We have to hope that their differences remain strong and that their egos prevent them from working together.