Surprises in Store for Israeli Voter

Israeli politicians complain that the Israeli voter is an enigma; it is hard to know what makes him or her tick. Person-in-the-street responses to media interviews and pollsters are often irrational or downright lies. That may be how 4.8 million eligible voters get back at their politicians, knowing there is nothing more predictable than the gap between a candidate’s campaign pledges and his actions the day after the poll.
The opinion poll published the day before the Jan. 28 general election shows the prime minister Ariel Sharon’s right-of-center Likud continuing to gain – up now from its present 19 seats to 33 (in the 120-member Knesset). About dozen places down, veteran Labor under its new left-of-center Amram Mitzna, is sinking momentarily from 25 to the teens, challenged hard by the upstart anti-religious Shinui (Change) led by former journalist Tommy Lapid. Both are swinging between 16 and 18, providing the only real drama in a lackluster, parochial contest.
Lapid and Green Leaf (campaigning for legalizing marijuana) have drawn protesters who are fed up with the two lead parties.
In advance of the poll, it can be said with certainty that Sharon will form the next government and that it will be a coalition of several parties.
That said, we enter the zone of fading credibility.
Two days before the poll, Labor’s eminence grise, dovish Shimon Peres – former prime minister and foreign minister, echoed by ex-party leader Binyamin Ben-Eliezer – faithfully repeated Mitzna’s vow never to join a government led by Ariel Sharon.
Friends of Labor and top pundits then declared the prime minister would be forced to be satisfied with a narrow-based, ultra-nationalist government bloc based on Likud, Lieberman’s ultra-nationalist National Union (8-9), the pro-settlement National Religious Party (4), the ultra-religious Sephardi Shas (down from 13 to 10-11) and Sharansky’s immigrant party (3).
This line-up would command roughly half the Knesset and be prone to the internal manipulation and instability that plagued the last two governments and forced three elections in three years.
All the polls empower (Change) as scale turner despite its fuzzy positions on most key issues. The only clear statement coming from Lapid is a vow never to sit in the same government as Shas.
debkafile‘s political analysts assert that none of these three pledges and premises will survive the vote-counting.
— Some, though not all, Labor politicians will take their seats at Sharon’s cabinet table after being convinced that the prime minister has taken steps towards advancing the peace process with the Palestinians.
— Sharon will lead a national unity government with one of the strongest majorities of any Israeli administration – without the National Union, which advocates voluntary transfer for the Palestinians.
— Lapid and his followers will not resist the lure of a couple of portfolios at least, when confronted with the national emergency of a looming US war with Iraq and threat of mega-terror.
According to debkafile‘s sources in Jerusalem, at least two of these post-election realities are already accomplished facts. The prime minister’s chef de bureau and confidant, Dov Weissglass and former minister Dan Meridor are engaged in advanced dialogue with Peres on the Israeli version of the “road map” for President George W. Bush’s two-state Middle East vision. Approval of the Middle East Quartet’s version was postponed until after the Israeli election. Accord on the Sharon government’s version will open the way for Peres to rejoin the new government. He officiated in the outgoing government as foreign minister until Labor walked out last October.
As a senior architect of the 1993 Oslo peace framework accord with the Palestinians, Peres, who is pushing 80, is unlikely to put his name to a new “road map” document, or join the Sharon government, without prior consultation with his partner in Oslo, Yasser Arafat.
But after being marooned so many times by Arafat’s broken promises, Peres is making sure that the Palestinian leader’s close advisers, his financial guru Mohammed Rashid and national security adviser Mohammed Dahlan, are fully committed to the Peres-Weissglass blueprint and make sure it is signed by Arafat. He hopes that even if Arafat behaves in character and goes back on this accord, Rashid, Dahlan and their factions will abide by the “road map” formulated by and on behalf of… Ariel Sharon.
The annual World Economic Forum gathering at Davos this week was selected as the perfect venue to demonstrate to the Americans and Europeans that the Israel-Palestinian dialogue is back on track on the eve of the Iraq war. Both Peres and Rashid chose to attend and be seen together.
The Israeli voter should therefore be prepared for at least two surprises when the 16th Knesset convenes in Jerusalem.
One, if Labor is dumped to third place for the first time in its history, at least four ex-ministers will find their way back into the Sharon government: Peres, Ben Eliezer, Efraim Sneh and Mattan Vilnai. Peres may even displace Binyamin Netanyahu as foreign minister. If displaced, Netanyahu threatens to stay out of the cabinet.
Haim Ramon, Avraham Burg, Yuli Tamir and Avraham Shochat will follow where Mitzna leads – most probably all the way over to the dwindling left wing Meretz (falling to 8).
These moves will split the Labor party.
Two, Sharon will be seen to have laid the foundations for the creation of a Palestinian state, albeit on depleted land with limited sovereignty. While Netanyahu and a Likud majority remain adamantly opposed to Palestinian statehood in any shape or form, Sharon is backed up by Colin Powell, Javier Solana, Mohammed Rashid, Mohammed Dahlan, Binyamin Ben Eliezer, Shimon Peres, Dan Meridor and Tzipi Livneh of Likud.
Lapid’s Change will also go along with the plan, while the spiritual leader of Shas, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, this week announced in a long interview that he has never gone back on his support for the principle of land for peace. These two sworn enemies therefore have an important common denominator that should enable them to sit in the same government, to which Sharon is no doubt putting the last touches well in advance of the ballot.

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