As the gap between supporters and opponents of the
disengagement plan narrows--to just 4 percent according to a
recent survey--the anxiety level at the Prime Minister's
Office is rising. After all the trips to Washington, the big
meeting with Bush and the successful campaign to garner the
support of Netanyahu, Livnat, Shalom and other top ministers,
now the plan stands the risk of not passing the Likud
Sharon and his staff are worried over indifference. While
opponents will come streaming to the polls to cast their
votes, the silent majority might not make the effort.
Sharon is girding himself for battle and going after Likud
voters himself. He will take advantage of every opportunity
the media gives him, not relying on others to get the job
done, for if the plan does not pass the Prime Minister will
be the only one to pay the price.
Ehud Olmert, who wants to gain publicity for himself at least
as much as for the disengagement plan, took a bus and started
traveling all around the country, from one Likud branch to
Netanyahu, Livnat and Shalom will vote in favor of the plan,
but cannot be expected to set off on the campaign trail to
help Sharon bring supporters to the polls unless Sharon asks
the ministers personally. And even if he does ask them they
will not be enthusiastic.
The disengagement plan belongs to the Prime Minister alone
and he assumes all the risk. Only Sharon stands to gain or
lose. If it passes they will be on the winning side and if
not they won't shed any tears over what becomes of Sharon.
As soon as Netanyahu realized he had nothing to lose, the
Finance Minister stopped wavering. In taking a stance he also
managed to extract something from Sharon: a pledge that the
separation barrier would be completed before the withdrawal
from Gaza is carried out.
The moment Netanyahu voiced his support for the plan Sharon
no longer needed Silvan Shalom. Even if he joined the
opposition, nobody in the Likud stands a chance against
Sharon and Netanyahu together. Shalom quickly realized that
this time he would not stand to gain from dallying and that
he had no choice but to support the plan.
But Shalom has a problem. If the plan passes, the right-wing
parties resigns and Labor joins the government, Shalom will
have to step down from his post as Foreign Minister to make
room for Shimon Peres. In exchange for supporting the plan,
Shalom wanted a guarantee he would not have to leave the
Foreign Ministry. But after Netanyahu's announcement his
support no longer carried any weight and such a guarantee was
out of the question.
Now the Foreign Minister is hoping the right-wing parties
won't resign, at least not right after the decision is
reached but when the disengagement is actually carried out,
which could be a year or more down the line. Welfare Minister
Zevulun Orlev, unable to come to terms with the thought that
he may have to part with his job at the peak of his career--
leaving the Volvo and the minister's office behind--is
already speaking out against resigning from the government
following the decision on the disengagement plan. For now
however, Effi Eitam, the chairman of his party, thinks
otherwise though he could still change his mind.
HaIchud HaLeumi Chairman Avigdor Liberman is resolved to pull
his party out of the government if the plan is approved. But
he too might have a sudden change of heart.
As former head of the Likud Party, Liberman recently sent a
letter out to the party's 200,000 voters urging them to vote
against the plan. Liberman must demonstrate staunch
resolution to resign from the government if the plan passes.
As soon as he shows any laxness all of the sway he holds with
Likud voters will dissipate.
HaIchud HaLeumi has yet to say its final word as well. They
are not very willing to let Labor--and definitely not Shas--
inherit the throne from them.