by E. Rauchberger
Politica: The Netanyahu-Silvan Camp
Ariel Sharon's staff is plenty worried. Not by the economic
or political state of affairs and certainly not by the weaker
ranks of society and the tents erected in Kiryat Hamemshalah
near the Prime Minister's Office. Instead Sharon's staffers
and family members are fretting over recent progress in
criminal investigations of cases in which the Prime Minister
was allegedly involved.
No other prime minister has ever been tied to so many
scandals. Some, such as Netanyahu and Barak, were suspected
of criminal violations, but Sharon and his family allegedly
went further. From the election associations scandal in the
2001 elections to the subsequent tale of the Cyril Kern loan,
the Sharon name was later associated with the Greek island
scandal and the Israel Lands Authority decision on the land
in Lod which was detailed in the State Comptroller's report.
But Attorney General Eliakim Rubinstein ruled there was
insufficient evidence to warrant opening a criminal
investigation against Sharon.
Rubinstein has announced he plans to resign from his post by
January 2004. By then, according to an agreement with the
Justice Minister and in order to pave the way for the High
Court, Rubinstein pledged to finish all of the cases tied to
high-ranking figures, including the cases against Sharon.
The fact that there is a final date for the investigations of
the Prime Minister and the decision as to whether to file an
indictment against him are what keep Sharon's staff and
family awake at night. They would much prefer to let these
cases sit in Rubinstein's drawer and in investigation rooms
for a few years. But it appears their wish will not come
The silence on the part of Sharon's son Gilad adds little to
the mood prevailing in the Prime Minister's Office. Yet it
appears Gilad has little choice other than to keep quiet.
Otherwise everything will come to light and he has no
intention of making life easier for the police investigators.
As far as he is concerned, if they want to obtain
incriminating evidence let them sweat a bit. He is not about
to volunteer himself and certainly not his father.
Meanwhile Finance Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is sitting off
to the side, watching quietly as events unfold. Since the
government was formed, Netanyahu has come into line with
Sharon considerably. He votes with him on almost every issue,
including policy matters on which the two seemingly have
substantial differences. His avoidance of conflict with
Sharon is quite pronounced.
Netanyahu is well aware that Sharon is sitting on hot coals
that will burst into flame or just burn out quietly. Either
Sharon will be sent packing or he'll stay. In either case
Netanyahu sees himself as a natural candidate to take
Sharon's place and as such he has no interest in opening a
front against a prime minister who may be governing on
Yet Netanyahu is not at ease politically. He knows at least
one other person is eyeing the throne, and maybe two. Ehud
Olmert certainly sees himself as a possible heir to Sharon's
inheritance. The other figure who appears to have entertained
such thoughts but is not yet unfettering them is Defense
Minister Shaul Mofaz.
Netanyahu is unafraid of Olmert. Everybody knows he has no
chance. He barely managed to reach, in the internal elections
at the Likud Center, the thirtieth slot. Olmert, lacking an
electoral base, is a potential candidate only in his own
eyes. On the other hand he should not be totally discounted
because under certain circumstances the Sharon camp might
rally around him.
Two weeks ago Netanyahu took a major political step toward
attaining his goal when he made peace with Foreign Minister
Silvan Shalom. The two had very frosty relations for a long
time but now they have decided to join together under a
single banner, a move that promises to yield dividends for
both of them.
Apparently realizing Netanyahu is inevitably destined to be
the Likud's leading man, Shalom will boost Netanyahu's
strength out in the field. Netanyahu promised to give him the
Number 2 spot, which means he would retain his position as
Foreign Minister or would receive any other ministerial
portfolio he chose. Silvan Shalom is still young and is
building himself for the future, primarily by trying to get
ahead of his main rival, Limor Livnat. Netanyahu will help
him in the long term and he will help Netanyahu in the short
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