Muckrakers Notwithstanding, Sharon Government Wins Full Five-Year Term
It looks like the Israeli media are going to have Ariel Sharon to kick around a bit longer.
Justice Dalia Dorner, chairman of the Central Elections Committee, ruled on Wednesday, March 3, the day she retired from the bench, that the next general election should take place on schedule in November 2007. A loophole in the relevant statute had been interpreted as bringing the date forward by one year and Justice Dorner had been asked to adjudicate the controversy.
The decision was a blow to the jackals of the Israeli press who tore into the prime minister over what they called a bombshell discovery that he had once conducted business down on his farm with the former father-in-law of Elhanan Tennenbaum, the rogue reserve officer at the center of a prisoner swap with Lebanon`s Hizballah terrorists.
When the hard facts were picked out of the inferences, the bombshell proved no better than a nine-hour wonder.
Sharon had pushed hard to bring Tennenbaum and the bodies of three fallen soldiers home in exchange for the release of 400 Arab terrorists. Wednesday morning, Israel`s Maariv daily came out with what it implied was the true explanation for his willingness to pay this heavy price for a suspected drug dealer. Sharon had no choice but to clear the air.
Beset by calls for his resignation, state inquiry probes and questions in the Knesset from the opposition benches and his own faction, the embattled prime minister delivered an unusual public statement. He accused the media of an unheard of, unbridled assault on his good name and declared his only motive in approving the prisoner exchange with the Hizballah was to bring the citizen Tannenbaum to trial in Israel. He stated he had no memory of being acquainted with the returned captive’s present or former relatives.
Sharon can`t seem to get a break these days. The Greek Island affair, the Apple bribes case and the Cyril Kern loan scandal – none of which have produced indictments – have all conspired to make it appear that the 76-year-old is living on borrowed political time. He`s become persona non grata at his former stomping ground, the White House, and faces the endless droning of Lilliputian legislators at weekly no-confidence votes in parliament.
In a way, Sharon has brought it on himself. His style of government is far from open, democratic or a true power-sharing with his partners. He tends to keep his cards close to his chest until he is ready to lay down the law. His ministers find him high-handed and secretive. He erodes his right-wing power base every time he trumpets plans to evacuate Jewish settlements, while the doves and pro-negotiation factions do not believe him. But the heaviest millstone around the former general`s neck is his non-acceptance by the powerful in-group that controls Israeli politics and the media. They regard him as an outsider.
That clique has accused the Sharon government of ditching missing Israeli airman Ron Arad to get Tannenbaum back. That was just a pretext. What really interests his enemies is his removal from government and they are willing to dig – or dream – up any storm in a teacup to achieve their goal. Now they have unearthed 90-year-old Shimon Cohen, father of Tannenbaum’s divorced wife and grandfather to his two children, who Maariv “reveals” spent six weeks with Sharon in the 1970s, when he had just retired from military service, teaching him how to grow melons and cotton at his newly-purchased Sycamore Ranch in southern Israel.
Soon after, Cohen became a shareholder in the defunct company that managed the ranch during Sharon’s tenure as agriculture minister.
Sharon denies knowledge of any connection between himself and the man who later became Cohen’s son-in-law – for a time – until it was revealed in Maariv. He was not aware that that old, many times removed connection had any bearing on the negotiations he conducted for the exchange of prisoners with the Hizballah.
However, the increasingly unsavory revelations about Tannenbaum, who is suspected not only of drug trafficking but of treasonable activities in Lebanon and a discreditable personal life, are easily exploited for spreading sleaze. His opponents are not short of legitimate fodder for attacking the Sharon government’s policies and actions. Instead of getting down to a serious national debate on the very real problems facing the country and the government’s glaring policy missteps, the opposition prefers to sling mud wherever they find it.
Fortunately, Justice Dorner injected a note of cool objectivity into the raging obsession with a trivial coincidence. She reminded thinking Israelis that they are governed after all by the rule of law rather than the contortions of malicious innuendo.