Tuesday, October 12, 2004


Sharon, Netanyahu, and the shakeup on the Israeli right

There is a very interesting article in Ha'aretz by Hannah Kim about the powerplays between Ariel Sharon and Benjamin Netanyahu for those of you who find internal Israeli politics as fascinating as I do. Kim argues that Netanyahu is angling to replace Sharon as top dog in the Likud without making it so obvious that he gets pinned with the label of sinking a Likud government just so he could be number one. Kim observes that part of the power struggle is taking place in the cabinet, where Netanyahu seems to wield more power than Sharon.
Indeed, the only one who could carry out the disengagement plan at this time and form a unity government is not Ariel Sharon. Since the Likud members' referendum, Sharon is functioning as a prime minister in Netanyahu's cabinet. The one making the decisions is not the leader but his would-be successor.

Netanyahu decided this week to let Sharon open the Knesset's winter session in peace. This may be the message to all those who expect Sharon to be ousted soon - the only one who can do that is Netanyahu, and he is doing everything so that nobody will say that he ousted an incumbent prime minister.
It is interesting that Sharon has essentially more to fear from his own party and the Israeli right than he does from the left. It is precisely this dynamic, also, that allows Netanyahu to bide his time, to wait "to see how Sharon ousts himself," before taking any action. If the Israeli left, the Labor party specifically, were in any position to contest the Likud in the Knesset, in elections were they to be held, Netanyahu would not have this luxury. So, ironically, a strong Labor party might be to Sharon's advantage, allowing him to lead a right more unified in its fear that the left might once again come to power. Kim also writes that a Kerry victory in the US Presidential election might win Sharon some more time than a second Bush term.
The restricted space Sharon has left to maneuver in will get narrower still if Minister Tzachi Hanegbi is elected chairman of the Likud's central committee and Minister Yisrael Katz is elected the party's secretariat chairman. The two chain boys, who cooperated as students in the Jerusalem campus when they used to beat up Arab students, will clamp additional restraints on Sharon.

The Knesset's winter session that opened yesterday could therefore be critical. If John Kerry is elected president of the United States, Sharon may gain a little more time until Kerry studies his plan, or until he amends the original plan and adapts it to the new administration.

Some believe that Kerry, who takes every chance he gets to attack Bush's foreign policy, will try to make a foreign policy achievement and the most suitable place for that is not the Iraqi mud but the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This means more pressure on the Israeli prime minister, but also several more months of survival for Sharon.
Possibly even more interesting and key to the way things play out with the Gaza disengagement plan, Sharon's ability to stay at the top, etc. is Kim's assessment of the shakeup of the far-right parties that have split, splintered, or regrouped over the issue of removing settlers from Gaza.
Avigdor Lieberman is not the only one who has a poll predicting a large share of Knesset seats for the radical right wing bloc. Effie Eitam also ordered a poll indicating that the bloc to the right of the Likud will get about 18 Knesset seats. The National Union, Yisrael Beitenu and the National Religious Party (NRP) have a potential to become Israel's second largest party.


The announcement of Shlomo Aviner, the rabbi of Beit El, of his desire to set up a new political body, having despaired of the NRP refusing to quit the government, may help Eitam and Levy, who are groping for ways to reorganize political forces to the right of the Likud. If one large right-wing bloc is not formed, an old-new right-wing party can be established, in the style of Matzad, which was formed by NRP quitters Hanan Porat and Haim Druckman.

The interesting issue is the potential to form a radical right wing bloc which will object to any political settlement.

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