Sharon’s Would be Successors on the Move

True to the Israeli military doctrine of striking hard and fast, defense minister Shaul Mofaz placed both feet down at the front of the race to succeed a politically weakened Ariel Sharon. The prime minister and Likud leader barely had time to weigh the consequences of his party’s stunning rejection of a disengagement plan denigrated by its critics as rewarding more than three years of Palestinian terror rather than a peace move, when Mofaz emerged as the new voice of reason.
In his characteristically flat tone of delivery, Mofaz said Monday, May 3, there has to be a new proposal that “takes into account national security and the will of Likud’s rank-and-file”. He was the first mover on the post-referendum succession chessboard. He also presented himself as a solid bridge between Sharon and the party faithless.
Three more Likud cabinet members attempted leapfrog tactics on Wednesday, May 5.
Public security minister Tsahi Hanegbi, smelling a political opportunity, named an unknown, Moshe Karadi, 44, commander of the southern district, the next police commissioner. By passing over four far more senior and more experienced contenders, Hanegbi built his own bridge between Sharon and his fickle party and placed his piece on the chessboard. What he had done was to knock over the top police officers who hounded the prime minister, his sons and Hanegbi himself in a series of corruption investigations. By choosing a young, straight-as-an-arrow officer to succeed the outgoing police commissioner, Shlomo Aharonishky, Hanegbi stood high as the ‘great reformer” who shook up the hidebound police establishment and fearlessly injected new blood.
Another prime ministerial wannabe, education minister Limor Livnat, saw she was being overtaken by faster runners. Just three hours after Hanegbi’s bombshell, she dropped one of her own. In a letter to the judicial appointments committee meeting Thursday, May 6, to approve new appointments to the Supreme Court bench, Livnat offered evidence impugning the integrity of leading candidate State Prosecutor Edna Arbel. The minister confirmed a story making the rounds for some time that the would-be high court judge solicited a seat for her husband on the board of directors of a public company controlled by the Communications Ministry when Livnat herself was communications minister. This and other tales have been vehemently denied by Arbel and her husband. It was corroborated by a lead player for the first time hours before the appointments committee convened at the request of justice minister Tommy Lapid. Lapid who supports Arbel’s appointment thereupon published an article charging that the state prosecutor was the victim of “political terrorism.”
However, the investigative reporter who first leveled the accusation against the State Prosecutor filed a petition Thursday to hold off the judicial appointments committee’s decision until all the objections had been properly aired.
One such objection came from another senior Likud voice, that of Michael Eytan, chairman of the Knesset Law Committee, who noted that Arbel is personally close to at least one supreme court judge, which has not been denied. He spoke out against the cronyism he alleged to be spreading through the highest court in the land.
Livnat’s move in the succession game was bolder than those made by Mofaz and Hanegbi. She took on a national holy cow and presented Sharon with a tasty dish indeed: a black mark that could nullify the chances of a high court position for the state prosecutor who turned on the heat against the prime minister. One month ago, she drafted an indictment against Sharon on charges of taking bribes and sent it to the new attorney general Menachem Mazuz with her recommendation that he brought to court.
The move to bar Arbel from the supreme court was Livnat’s way of making amends for lobbying against Sharon’s disengagement plan in Likud. And it was more win-win for the workhorse minister. The present makeup of the supreme court and the justice establishment is viewed as innately prejudiced and hostile by the Likud rank and file, the settlers and religious groupings. Limor’s assault on one of its insiders takes her in a leap over the heads of Mofaz and Hanegbi on the leadership chessboard.
The fourth entrant made his bid in London. Silvan Shalom, the foreign minister who find it hard to be taken seriously at home, turned up alongside British foreign secretary Jack Straw at a televised news conference Wednesday, May 5. There, he told the world that the only way forward toward Israel-Palestinian negotiations is a backward turn to the road map. He clearly blanked out unilateral disengagement and withdrawal in Gaza.
The prime minister’s disengagement debacle has clearly empowered its four most forceful opponents in Likud: Mofaz, Hanegbi, Livnat and Shalom. Sharon in contrast is down for the count on his home terrain. The message delivered him by the Likud Quartet is the antithesis of the message coming from the Middle East Quartet in New York, forget about your disengagement plan; it is dead and gone. The time has come to stand again on firmer ground.
On the personal level, they are telling Sharon: You still have our support for the time being – even after you dumped the party. We’ll pick up the pieces – but not necessarily on your behalf. The staff of authority in the ruling Likud has passed from you to us. We’ll show you every respect, but it is time to start thinking of retiring, old man – sooner, not later.
The Likud Quartet also ganged up on finance minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. Blamed by Sharon for his humiliating referendum defeat, he cannot even begin to try to redeem himself with the prime minister the way Mofaz, Hanegbi, Livnat and Shalom have. Olmert, who ran too hard and fast in the cause of unilateral withdrawal, is dead in the water.
The rising Likud foursome have also underscored for opposition Labor’s Shimon Peres and Yosef Lapid, leader of Sharon’s biggest coalition partner, Change (Shinui), the folly of dreaming of a divided Likud. The party will remain united under the new management. The new leadership will certainly not chance losing the party’s grass roots again by seeming to make Palestinian terrorists free gifts.

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