The dilemma

The formation of the new party, Kadima, by Ariel Sharon appears to have
shattered the status quo in Israeli politics. But, all may not be as it
seems.
Assuming that the current polls are correct and that Sharon will receive ca.
35 seats in the next Knesset, Labor ca. 26 and Likud ca. 16, in order to
form a new government (requiring 61 seats out of a total of 120 in the
Knesset) Sharon will have to form a coalition (there are also other smaller
parties). Given the evident coolness between Amir Peretz and Sharon when
they met, and the fact that Peretz is responsible for withdrawing Labor
support from Sharon and causing his Government to fall, I made the tacit
assumption that Sharon would prefer to make a coalition with Likud.
Although this makes sense from one point of view, however, it is illogical
now, since he has just split Likud and formed a new party precisely in order
to get away from the Likud “rebels” who formed the right wing of Likud, but
are now its center. That means that Likud is now a more right wing party
than it was, so why would Sharon form a coalition with it and get himself
right back where he was before the split, depending on the votes of the
Likud in a coalition government.
Now it seems much more likely that he would try to form a coalition with
Labor’s Peretz. That way he can be sure to have the Labor votes to support
any peace move he decides to make in relation to the Palestinians. For his
part, Peretz would require a reversal of the domestic and social programs
that Sharon has implemented with Netanyahu as Finance Minister. In fact
today, at their party conference, Yossi Beilin, leader of the extreme
left-wing Yachad party and former negotiator of the Oslo Accords, announced
that they would be prepared to enter a coalition with Sharon. Wow, what a
turnaround for both of them.
Last Friday morning I went to a small meeting with Natan Sharansky, who had
decided not to run again for the Knesset in view of Sharon’s opposition to
him for opposing the disengagement plan. He may change his mind now that
Sharon has left Likud. When asked why he thought Sharon had made such a
turnaround in his political position, i.e. adopting the Labor Party policy
of unilateral disengagement proposed by his former opponent Amram Mitzna,
Sharansky said he thought that there was a personal reason. Sharon has been
called “the butcher” of Sabra and Shatila throughout the Arab/Muslim world
and Europe. He wants very badly to overcome this stigma, and he can only do
so by becoming the foremost peacemaker with the Palestinians. While he
publicly adheres to the “road map” and he has said that there will be no
more unilateral withdrawals, who could trust him now.
So for personal and political reasons, as a military man who always acts
without consideration for the opposition, it is most likely that Sharon
would form a coalition government with Labor. In fact today, Dalia Itzik, a
protege of Shimon Peres, joined Kadima, thus opening the way for Peres
himself to join. With an influx of former Laborites, that takes Kadima
further to the left. There is nothing really strange about a center-left
coalition, given that Sharon formed such a coalition with Labor in order to
carry out the disengagement from Gaza and northern Samaria in the first
place.
So in effect the lines have been drawn somewhat differently, although the
undelying political terrain has remained the same.
This then leaves right of center voters, like myself and the majority of
Israelis, with a dilemma, to support Sharon and get a Government with Labor
in it, or to support Likud and possibly be on the losing side. Netanyahu is
the leading candidate in the race for Likud leader to be decided within two
weeks. Some people don’t like him at all, but on the other hand I think he
did an excellent job as Finance Minister. Sharon is certainly not competent
in this area, so if he forms a coalition with Peretz, Israel will go sharply
leftwards. So a vote for Sharon could become in effect a vote for Peretz,
while a vote for Netanyahu might become a wasted vote. Not a pleasant
dilemma.

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