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Likud Political Infighting

09 October 2002

By Yisrael Ne’eman

One can definitely get the impression that the purpose of Israeli political parties is to commit suicide.  The three way battle in the Labor party between Defense Minister Benyamin Ben Eliezer, Knesset member Chaim Ramon and Haifa mayor Amram Mitzna is certainly a case in point.  And the more they fight for Labor leadership, the more the party sinks in the polls, they may not even get 15% of the popular vote in the October 2003 elections.  The ultra-orthodox Sephardi Shas party continues its infighting between supporters of former minister Arieh Deri and current chairman Eli Yishai with threats of splits and apparently no real chance at retaining the 17 seats they have in the current Knesset.

But most surprising is the Likud with 19 seats at the moment.  Prime Minister Ariel Sharon rebuilt the party and if elections were held today they would poll 40 – 45 seats despite the difficult security and economic situation.  Sharon in particular has popular support but for whatever personal reasons former PM Benyamin Netanyahu has decided to challenge the incumbent premier despite the fact the bottom line policies of the two are quite similar.  Netanyahu may not believe in a Palestinian state (even truncated and demilitarized) but he knows such an eventuality is unavoidable.  On the economic front he may have an MBA but that makes him no brighter than Sharon’s economic advisors (professors and business leaders). 

The Netanyahu challenge is seemingly only personal and divisive.  Sharon is 74, Netanyahu 53.  The current PM would serve one more term and retire leaving Netanyahu to take his place after serving in a major ministerial position under Sharon.  The party would be his by 2007 barring any major mishap.  But the Likud has always been known for its competing camps and self-destruction.

At the beginning of the week there were elections for the Likud central committee.  They were so acrimonious that certain polling booths could not be opened, especially in Jerusalem with its tens of thousands of members.  Nothing like a major embarrassment for Israel’s leading political party (membership – 305,000). 

Such infighting broadcasts weakness, not only inside Israel, but outside, and especially to Jerusalem’s most dire enemies.