[[ Jerusalem Times : Opinion ]]

September 2, 2005


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



Stormy weather in the Likud


Election fever has taken hold in Israel. It all began with the “hard talk” style interview with Sharon on Israel’s Channel 10’s popular London and Kirschenbaum program. Sharon was pushed to the wall in trying to convince the public that he is staying in the Likud and that he would win any primary contest in the party.  Sharon also stated, however, that there would be no way that he would serve under Netanyahu’s leadership, should Bibi win.  On September 26 the Likud Central Committee will convene to decide whether or not to advance the internal election primaries for the position of Chairman of the party and the candidate to lead the party in the next elections. Binyamin Netanyahu and Uzi Landau have already announced their candidacy and are now coordinating their positions together in order to ensure a victory in the Likud central council for advancing the elections.


Prime Minister Sharon is engaged in a marathon of meetings with Likud Ministers, MK’s and party activists to try and convince them not to advance the primaries. Sharon is telling them that they have another full year to be in government and there is no reason to voluntarily end their control of the country. Behind the scenes, people are saying that Sharon needs time in order to prepare himself for the establishment of a new political party.


Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom met with Sharon this week.  He apparently shares Sharon’s opinion that there is no need to advance the election fever yet, but he wants a promise from Sharon that he will not leave the Likud, even if he loses the contest for Chairman of the party.  Shalom is willing to mediate between Sharon and Netanyahu on setting the date for the primaries if Sharon will agree to his conditions. Shalom will be meeting with Netanyahu and Landau this week to push his comprise suggestion forward.  But it is very unlikely that Sharon will agree. Sharon is calling the actions of Netanyahu and Landau an act of ousting a serving Prime Minister a charge next to treason in political terms. 


Sharon himself is using the results of recent polls that show that the Likud under Netanyahu will get about half the number of seats in the Knesset that he would bring the Likud at its helm. But the Likud registered voters are still very angry with Sharon for ignoring the results of the party referendum against the disengagement.  The Likud party registered members are significantly more right wing than the general public. Sharon believes that by campaigning on the platform of narrow self-interests he can convince enough Ministers, MK’s and party activists that going along with Netanyahu is political suicide.


The forces against Sharon in the party are quite significant and Sharon must also recognize that his chances of winning the Likud primaries are quite slim. So while trying to postpone the date of the primaries, Sharon is probably very busy behind the scenes making preparations for leaving the Likud.  He is likely to declare that the Likud has been taken over by right-wing extremists who are not even real Likud voters. Like in Northern Ireland where the IRA split into the IRA and the Real IRA, we are likely to see the Likud and the Real Likud parties emerging – each claiming the legacy of Menechem Begin and Zeev Jabotinsky. Whatever happens in the end, it appears that Sharon’s disengagement from Gaza will also bring about how own disengagement from the Likud.


The Labour Party – One step behind


Ehud Barak is responsible for the stormy weather in the Labour Party this week. On the same Channel 10’s popular London and Kirschenbaum program, Barak announced that he is calling on the contestants for Labour Party leadership to unite behind his arch-rival Shimon Peres. At first, Barak led the public to believe that he was dropping out of the race and was backing Peres, but later that evening on a different talk show Barak clarified that he would only drop out of the race if all of the other candidates do as well!  Barak is in third place in the polls behind Peres and Histadrut leader Amir Peretz. Only Ben Eliezer and Matan Vilnai lag behind the Barak. The other candidates immediately stated that they had no intention of pulling out.  Barak is doing so badly in the polls that at this point he doesn’t seem to mind becoming Peres’ number 2. Barak’s manipulative actions and political acrobatics prove that he has not changed or learned anything from his political past. On the other hand, however, he seems to have developed a sense of humor. In jest Barak stated that he would accept the position of Minister of Regional Cooperation from Peres, the position that Barak created for Peres in order to keep him busy with sideline issues when Barak was PM. But Barak seems to be calculating that the demise of the Likud might actually enable a Labour victory and being number 2 after Peres would put him in the right place, taking into account Peres’s 82 years and rumors of his age finally catching up with him.


Barak was later betrayed by his longtime ally MK Danny Yatom who announced his support for Binyamin Ben Eliezer after Barak backed Peres. Yatom’s consistent position against Shimon Peres apparently is stronger than Barak’s.


Meanwhile, Barak supporters are busy waging a major campaign with a lot of money behind it against Amir Peretz, the favorite after Peres.  Large adverts have been appearing in the major newspapers under the heading “Amir Peretz is shutting your mouth” and “enough with dictatorship” – reference to Peretz’s strong hold over the Histadrut.  Barak has added his own personal additions to the campaign by stating that someone who has never served as a Minister in the Government is not capable of being Prime Minister. It seems that Barak believes that his past failed experiences in the PM’s office qualifies him more than the only Labour party candidate who actually offers the voters some form of a real alternative.


Agreement with Egypt


Netanyahu supporters and Netanyahu himself waged a fierce battle against the agreement with Egypt for deploying 750 Egyptian border guards along the Philadelphi corridor between Gaza and Egypt. The agreement was signed this week by IDF Chief Operations General Yisrael Ziv and his Egyptian counterpart General Fakherani after the Knesset voted strongly in favor.  The IDF campaigned against the Netanyahu propaganda by stating that there were significant strategic advantages to Israel within the agreement. The Egyptians are now fully committed to combating all smuggling into Gaza, they will not arm the Palestinian Authority without Israeli agreement, there will be a full fledged mechanism for intelligence sharing, the Egyptians will share their intelligence information with Israel not only concerning the Philadephi area but regarding all of Sinai, and the agreement will be monitored by the Multinational Force of Observers in Sinai. Netanyahu and his proxy MK Yuval Shteinitz, tried to argue that the agreement would breach the principle of the demilitarization of Sinai and would enable the Egyptians to rebuild an offensive force in Sinai.  The IDF chiefs did not buy Netanyahu’s claims.


Former Gush Katif settlers go bizerk


It was another hard week for the former settlers of Gush Katif. Facing the new realities of having to find a new home and new schools were belittled by the series of funerals that took place after the Neve Dekelim cemetery was dug up. It must be a very difficult experience to have to hold a funeral twice for the same loved one. Perhaps this can excuse the insanity that took hold when someone “decorated” the entrance to the Holocaust Yad Vashem national museum in Jerusalem with a display of placards with the names of the 25 dismantled settlements under the heading “in memory of the 25 Gush Katif and northern West Bank communities destroyed by enemy (of the Jewish people) Ariel Sharon.” The display included 25 photographs of homes, with a note placed on each photo bearing the name of one of the evacuated communities. The guards of Yad Veshem were the first to find the display and dismantled it before the museum opened for the day.


Future Disengagements?


There is clearly the beginning of signs (written in this column several weeks ago for the first time) of organization of settlers east of the separation barrier in the West Bank who would like to be compensated for their homes and properties under the disengagement law. Eighty-five families in the settlement Tene Omarim announced that they want to leave now. It has been reported that real estate values in the settlements outside of the barrier are crashing and the non-ideological settlers in those communities want to cash-in now. There has not yet been any official response from the Government, but it can be assumed that pressure will grow from those areas beyond the barrier and more settlers will come on board. In addition to the US pressure for Israel to now take action on the illegal outposts, (David Walsh assistant to Seretary Rice stated that the US has no reasons to doubts Sharon’s commitments to President Bush on the illegal outposts) we may see ahead of us another disengagement, even if it is called something else after Sharon stated that there would be no further disengagements. But politicians have been known to change their positions or to tell half-truths about what their positions are. Netanyahu, for instance is still denying that he never supported the disengagement, but “concerned” journalists all week kept presenting news clips of Netanyahu clearly stating his support for the disengagement.


Rafah crossing – moving towards possible agreement?


The Quartet special envoy, former World Bank President James Wolfensohn will be back the region this coming week to finalize the plans for the Rafah crossing, and other outstanding issues.  The Palestinians want the Rafah crossing to be under their full control in order to guarantee free movement for Palestinians for the first time in history.  Israel’s position is to allow the Palestinians to have free exit to Egypt but controlled entry to Gaza under the eyes of Israeli soldiers by moving the border crossing to the Kerem Shalom triangle meeting point of Israel-Egypt-Gaza. The likely compromise being worked out by the Americans includes free movement for people through Rafah but controlled movement for goods through Kerem Shalom.  Some kind of agreement on this issue is expected in the coming weeks.


Full disengagement almost completed


The IDF has announced that they have completed the preparation for full withdrawal.  All of the settlement homes have been demolished along with all of the military installations, except for a few buildings that are remaining in tact for the Palestinian security forces. The issue of the synagogues destruction has been stopped by the Supreme Court and a decision on the future of those buildings is also likely this week.  The army is now waiting for the orders from Sharon to complete the withdrawal.  The final evacuation by Israel will take only a few hours to complete.


A new school year – in the Arab sector business as usual


Five thousand new classrooms are needed in the Arab sector in Israel at the outset of the new school year. One quarter of Israeli school children are Arabs. Government budget allocations for Jewish students amount to some 4,935 NIS per student as opposed to 862 NIS for an Arab student. Twelve percent of the Arab students will not complete high school while only six percent of Jewish students will drop out. The statistics speak for themselves – there is no need to comment.


No Hugs


A small group of Peace Now activists tried to go to the West Bank this past week for a tour of the illegal outposts. As usual, the army and the border police had early information of their travel plans and blocked the activists from getting to their destination. Peace Now activists said that a massive amount of force was allocated to prevent their visit and that they faced a significant verbal abuse particularly from the border police. One of the activists approached the soldiers and policemen and asked for a hug.  Although the same officers of the law had gained so much experience in hugging during the disengagement, the Peace Now activists did not manage to get any of them to extend the same courtesy.