[[Jerusalem Times: Opinion]]


December 2, 2005


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


It’s all politics


Like the pre-football season, tens of free agents are scrambling around the field trying to find a team that wants them.  Never before in the history of Israeli politics have so many players switched sides and joined new teams.  You really need a score card to keep track of the daily developments.  While not a comprehensive list, because the movements on the field are still taking place, the following is an attempt to show the teams as they are developing:


Current MK’s who have moved from the Likud to Kadima with Ariel Sharon:

Ehud Olmert, Ronnie Baron, Zeev Boim, Tzipi Livni, Yaacov Edri, Gideon Ezra, Majallie Whabee, Avraham Hirshson, Ruhama Avraham, Meir Shitreet, Marina Solotkin, Efie Aflalu, and Omri Sharon.


Current MK’s from Labour who have joined Kadima with Ariel Sharon:

Shimon Peres, Haim Ramon, Dalia Itzkik.


Other personalities who have joined Kadima with Ariel Sharon:

Former Shabak Head Avi Dichter, Ministry of Education Director-General Ronit Tirosh, President and Founder of the Herzliyeh Multi-disciplinary college and founder of Shinui Prof. Uriel Reichman, Likud legal advisor Eitan Haberman, a whole group of Likud mayors have joined the ranks of the new party and it is expected that even Labour party mayors will join in such as Rishon Lezion Mayor Meir Nitzan who has declared his loyalty to Sharon.


Other personalities who have joined Labour:

Labour too has scored some major victories and their enlistment process – the big draws of the week were Ben Gurion University President Prof. Avishay Braverman and television newscasters and social activists Shelly Yachimovich. Also reported in the new Labour party is human rights lawyer and activist Yuval Elbashan. Former Shabak head Ami Ayalon joined even before Peretz won the position of chairman of the party, now strengthening the security portfolio of the party has come former Jerusalem Police Chief Arie Amit. Peretz is also working on bringing Dalia Rabin-Pelosof back into active duty.


The other parties


The scrambling has also taken place in several other parties as well. Yossi Sarid, after 32 years in the Knesset has announced that he would not be seeking re-election. "Being a realist, I know my chances are slim to none, and I have no need to break Guinness World Records like Shimon Peres. I am sick and tired of those who seize the horns of the altar," Sarid concluded. Haim Oron, another Meretz leader thought about dropping out, but this week announced that he would be seeking re-election.


It has been reported that Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef has decided that any Shas MK under criminal investigation would not be included on the next Knesset list – bye-bye to Shlomo Benizri and Yair Peretz.  It has been reported that Yosef is courting Aryeh Deri to bring him back into active political life – probably not as an MK but as a kind of acting President of Shas.  This might be thinking forward that if Shas is asked to join the next government, Deri would be a better negotiator with Sharon than current Shas leader Eli Yishai.


On the right-wing, intensive negotiations are underway in attempt to unite forces, but the negotiations have entered into difficulties mostly on issues of personalities and determining how decisions will be made in the united list.  The National Religious Party has been negotiating with Avigdor Leiberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu and with the National Union of Benny Eilon. It is still too early to know if they will successfully unite.  The pressure to unite is coming mainly from the public opinion polls that consistently demonstrate that they would fare must better on election day if they unite forces.


Internal difficulties


It’s not all that easy for Amir Peretz to assert his leadership in Labour, especially when he has become so accustomed to be the absolute ruler of the Histadrut. The exit of Shimon Peres from Labour has definitely made Peretz’s life easier.  One unnamed Labour MK this week likened Peres to an evergreen tree – it is always there and nothing grows under it. Dalia Itzik is also a well known trouble maker and I am sure that Peretz is happy to see her in Sharon’s camp. The main remaining trouble maker for Peretz is none other than Ehud Barak.  Peretz met twice with Barak this week to try and reach an agreement on Barak’s political future.  Very little has been leaked from those meetings, it is assumed though that Barak wishes to ensure that should Labour make up the next government, or within the negotiations for the next coalition that Peretz would back Barak for the defense ministry post. After the insults that Barak threw upon Peretz during all of the past year, it will be quite difficult for Peretz to swallow a frog as large as Barak  and there is little doubt in Peretz’s camp that Barak will continue to scheme against Peretz very much in the model of the old odd couple of Labour- Rabin-Peres. It would be better for Peretz to get rid of Barak now while the latter is at a low point in public popularity. Rumors are that Peretz is conducting surveys to determine if Barak would be an asset or a liability in terms of votes and on the basis of those polls Peretz will decide Barak’s future.


It has been reported that Peretz or his people have been distributing lists of preferred candidates for the primaries.  All of Barak’s people were absent from the list.  The most vocal of these is MK Danny Yatom who is fuming that Peretz or his people are distributing a list of preferred candidates and that he is not on the list. Yesterday Peretz embraced Barak loyalist Shalom Simchon, the leader of the Moshav movement and promised to back him and to appoint him as the next Minister of Agriculture – a position that he held in the past under Barak.  The Moshav movement is thought to be more right-wing than the general membership of Labour and it has been reported that Peretz has been courting or has been courted by the Sephardi Rainbow Coalition (Hakeshet Hamizrahit), which is fighting for rights on agricultural land - including kibbutzim and moshavim.  Many Moshav movement leaders have been speaking of moving over to Kadima with Ariel Sharon.


Peretz is also having difficulties, apparently from the Barak camp, in bringing Braverman and Shelly Yachimovich into the party. The party constitution says that primary candidates must be registered party members for at least six months before running. This does not apply to these two candidates and several others who have just now joined the party.  But the Party constitution had been changed by Barak when he led the party to allow him to hand pick four individuals who were not party members to join the list – so it seems that with the help of Barak Peretz will overcome these troubles.


The polls


With each passing day it seems that the Kadima party of Sharon is growing stronger in public opinion. The latest poll gives Sharon 37-38 seats, Labour is steady with 26, Likud under Bibi is crashing with 10  - it doesn’t do any better with any of the other candidates either; Shinui is likely to tumble down to only five seats, as most of its voters seem to be moving to Kadima. Shas will slip to 10 seats, losing one to Labour. Yisrael Beiteinu, headed by Avigdor Lieberman, is set to attain six mandates; Meretz is expected to lose two seats to Labor, and will drop to four; United Torah Judaism will get six mandates; National Religious Party and National Union will get nine seats, and the Arab parties will hold steady at eight mandates.


The Likud is panicking at the results of the polls and has decided to fight back.  Their tactic is to label Sharon a leftist.  Yisrael Katz is leading the attack under the slogan “Sharon and the left…..”  Sharon, he says has adopted the platform of Labour and Meretz.  Someone should tell the Likud that the majority of the Israeli public supports the platform of Labour and Meretz and would like to see more progress on the peace track and support the removal of more settlements.


The economic and social agenda


Those truly concerned with the social and economic agenda in Israel gained some more very convincing data about Israel’s deep problems - 69% of poor people in Israel have serious health problems and 75% of them do without medication because they can't afford it.  This data along with others will surely be prominent in the political campaigns of all parties.  Even within the Likud, all of the candidates have been attacking the policies of former Finance Minister Netanyahu. The strongest attacks have come from Yisrael Katz who claims to be the only Likud minister who voted against Bibi’s policies within the government – he supported them in the Knesset which he had to do in order to remain in the government. Joining in the loud voices against Bibi’s economic policies is Minister of Defense Shaul Mofaz who claims to be the Minister with the most social and economic awareness. It should be noted that in the past Mofaz had been convinced to give up some 250 million NIS from the defense budget for education, but later in a behind the scenes deal got the money back to defense and the 250 million were never added to the education budget (it’s all politics).


Troubles in Rafah


The Rafah terminal opened but the Israelis are not happy with the monitoring process of the EU troops there.  Israeli news has reported all week that wanted terrorists, including the brother of Hamas leader Mahmoud a Zahar entered Gaza from Egypt.  Israel claims that the system should have prevented these people from entering.  Israel claims that it does not have the proper view on the close circuit TV screens that it was promised and that the lists of people crossing is not being shared with Israel in real time. Likud right-winger Yuval Shteinitz has even claimed that the Palestinians are smuggling weapons, including anti-tank missiles and maybe katyusha rockets through Rafah. Shteinitz has repeated made such claims in the past without any evidence and his claims proved false – something which the Israeli public does not know. In an effort to learn the truth and to repair any damage that might have already occurred, US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, David Welch, is due to arrive Thursday for talks with officials in Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Welch is being dispatched to the region in order to monitor the implementation of the Rafah border crossing agreement brokered last month by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.


Welch will examine the operation of the Rafah crossing; he will also discuss upgrading the Karni and Erez crossings from the Gaza Strip to Israel as well as running trade convoys between Gaza and the West Bank. The US government has allocated some $50 million for purchasing scanners for the check points.