Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

1 Teves 5761 - December 27, 2000 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Opinion & Comment

by E. Rauchberger

Winners, Losers and Plans for the Future

Several winners emerged two weeks ago, and the biggest of them all, of course, were Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Likud Chairman Ariel Sharon. In fact, both of them beat the same man, Binyamin Netanyahu. Many losers were also posted, with Netanyahu leading the list and Eli Yishai a close second. Among the other losers were Tommy Lapid, who had already begun to prepare victory celebrations with surveys forecasting 12 mandates, Silvan Shalom, Limor Livnat, Meir Shetreet, and others.

But today's winners might not emerge victorious when all is said and done. Likewise the losers will invariably have more to say and will make their voices heard loud and clear. Two weeks ago Silvan Shalom, Limor Livnat and Meir Shetreet did not believe that within two days such a situation would evolve. They were sure Netanyahu would vie and assume the Likud leadership without any effort and therefore they chose not to contend, since the outcome of the game was known in advance. But with Netanyahu out of the running leaving Sharon the contender, that is a whole different story. But the train has already pulled out of the station, and they have been left behind.

So it goes in politics. Either you pluck up your courage, or you take a chance or you're out of the game until the next time around, unless Netanyahu comes back for more.

But above all, the campaign trail has begun. Sharon versus Barak. Two renowned military men, a chief of staff against a general, going head to head. Both of them consider themselves expert strategists and top-notch tacticians, and both camps have already rallied their forces to go full steam ahead for the office of prime minister.

Meanwhile public rumor, for some reason, has it that these elections are altogether superfluous. Everything has already been settled between the two and after the elections a unity government will be set up anyway, with the winner putting his opponent in the leading runner-up position.

The Sin of Pride

Netanyahu's close associates promised us he'd be back in a new and improved model, but somehow it seems he's been left out of the election campaign due to a sin we associate with the old Netanyahu--the sin of pride and overconfidence that has been known to ensnare him. His declaration that he will not run unless the Knesset is dispersed was essentially an attempt to bend the political establishment to his will and to compel it to go along with what suited him best.

Netanyahu should have understood that this wouldn't work. A politician who has been out of the ring for a year and a half-- of which at least six months were spent abroad, making him almost a tourist here--cannot come and tell 120 Knesset members who have labored and sweated and spent large sums of money to be chosen among the 120 representatives of the populace, to go back home. Disperse yourselves because that's what I want, and do my bidding, or else I'm out of the game. With all due respect, that is no way to talk, and that's not the way things are done.

Even Netanyahu's close associates, those who have been with him over the long haul, those who did everything to have an election called in order to bring him back into the political ring, have been left high and dry, with the bitter taste of frustration and disappointment. But not Netanyahu.

Meanwhile, people are crowding around Sharon and lining up to see him. Sharon has his own people, and those who want to hop on the bandwagon will have to roll up their sleeves and work their way on. Netanyahu does not yet seem to have come to understand that the world of politics demands flexibility; that a politician has to adjust to every set of circumstances.

Take, for example, his refusal to serve as foreign minister under Sharon, if elected. Isn't the post of foreign minister important and dignified enough for him? Shamir served as foreign minister after he was prime minister, and Peres did likewise. Rabin served as Defense Minister after he was prime minister. Netanyahu conveys a message, "I was born for the office of prime minister alone."

This style is not readily accepted in the political establishment, and this is a type of arrogance that is inappropriate for someone who wants to make a new image for himself.

In any case, Netanyahu is in a real bind. Last Tuesday he announced that he would back Sharon. He said his support is unreserved, and emphasized that he would do whatever asked of him by Sharon's campaign staff, but he is obviously stuck in a tight spot: if he doesn't help Sharon and Sharon loses as a result, he will be accused of thwarting the Likud's bid to return to power. But if he does help Sharon and Sharon wins, Netanyahu's chances of making a comeback will fade further.

With all due respect to Netanyahu, if Sharon succeeds as prime minister, there is no reason why he wouldn't lead the Likud in the next elections as well. If Sharon loses, it will be seen as a failure on the part of the Likud, and the public will want to replace the entire government, from Likud to Labor, without taking into account that the Likud will have replaced its leader with Netanyahu standing in for Sharon.

Fearing Disaster

Eli Yishai did not have much to smile about last weekend, either. Yes, he did manage to retain his 17 mandates. Yes, he did demonstrate once again that nothing happens in the current Knesset without Shas, and that Shas alone can dictate the agenda. Yes, he proved that Shas is the only independent party that can be manipulated by no one whatsoever, not even the former prime minister who all the surveys prophesied would be the next prime minister, as well.

But in the final analysis, Yishai was a defeated man this week, almost worthy of pity. A man who knows he holds the title of party chairman, but who has no party to chair. Yishai decided to lead the move to oppose the dispersal of the Knesset for a single reason--and don't let anyone else tell you otherwise: the fear of a landslide election and the collapse of the party. Despite the fact that the most optimistic surveys predicted Shas would receive 10-11 mandates, with the least optimistic predicting 7-8, Eli Yishai continued to entertain notions that the surveys are wrong just as they were in the last elections, and that he would be able to handle new elections, even for the Knesset, without much damage to Shas, or slight damage at the very worst--the loss of a mandate or two. This was also the message conveyed to Netanyahu's staff, that there was a good chance they would agree to the Knesset dispersal option, in spite of everything.

But last week on Sunday evening, all that changed. A special messenger sent by Arye Deri arrived at Rabbi Ovadia Yosef's home--his brother, Attorney Shlomo Deri. Accounts of what happened there differ. Some say he stated outright that Arye Deri would not run a Knesset list and would not support any Knesset list vying against Shas, and added that he does not want to get involved in politics and does not want his name to be used. According to the other version, Deri asked to be allowed to determine 80 percent of the Shas Knesset list, and if not prefers to be left out of politics as per the first version. Of course 80 percent is out of the question, but without Deri -- his name and his trial and prison story -- there would be no point in the election bid because a severe defeat would be guaranteed. In short, Shas has to oppose the dispersal of the Knesset at all costs. The lots have already been cast.

Bringing Back the Dropouts

Close to twenty years ago, Ariel Sharon was forced to resign as Defense Minister due to the conclusions drawn by the Kahan Committee in the matter of the Sabra and Shatilla incidents. One of his close associates, reporter Uri Dan, said then that whoever didn't want Sharon as Defense Minister would get him as prime minister. During the nearly 20 years since then, the prophesy has not come true and Sharon did not have an opportunity to realize his big dream. But now opportunity is knocking, and he intends to charge forward full-force as only he knows how.

In contrast to the surveys which perhaps paint the picture a bit rosier than it would otherwise appear, from Sharon's perspective the battle will not be easy by any means. He will have to make a real effort in order to defeat Barak, and even so, there is no guarantee that his efforts will bear fruit.

Sharon will have to persuade the center voters to cast their ballots for him, and this will prove very challenging. He will have to persuade the chareidi public to support him after he voted against the bill to arrange for deferred induction of yeshiva students on its first reading, and that will be quite a task. He will have to assure Arab citizens that they have nothing to fear from him and that therefore they should not flock en masse to support Barak and this, as well, will be nearly impossible. In short, the numerous challenges Sharon faces are not simple by any means, but these difficult tasks before him are certainly not impossible, and with some good work in the right direction, he could reach the finish line first.

The first step Sharon must take is to bring back all of the Likud dropouts: Dan Meridor, Roni Milo, David Levy, Maxim Levy, and even Benny Begin. Meridor, Milo and Levy are his ticket to the Israeli center. If Meridor comes home along with Milo and they both back Sharon, not just with words but with actions and some tough field work as well, Sharon could begin to crack a smile.

Sharon needs to convince people that his warmonger image is mistaken and that he is no less a man of peace, and there is nobody better than Meridor and Levy to accomplish this. Half leftists, Ashkenazi, anti-religious, hailing from the North Tel Aviv bourgeoisie, attorneys--perfect for the job. Both Meridor and Milo are from the center, and according to the law they can resign and set up a separate faction which would then join the Likud. This would allow Sharon to grant them ministerial posts after the elections, if he wins. The Levy brothers cannot set up a separate faction, but this won't prevent them from supporting Sharon from within the One Israel faction. After the elections a way can be found to pay them back without legal entanglements, but first Sharon has to win.

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