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Election Line-ups

07 November 2002

By Yisrael Ne’eman

Most likely early elections will be held in Israel on Jan. 28th.  In the meantime PM Sharon has replaced outgoing foreign minister Shimon Peres with his Likud arch rival former prime minister Benyamin Netanyahu and the defense ministry post held by Benyamin Ben Eliezer has been filled by former chief of staff Shaul Mofaz.  For the interim period this is a formidable line-up.

In a recent poll reported on Israel Army Radio 57% of the population wants to see PM Sharon continue in his job.  Netanyahu’s challenge inside the Likud therefore leaves open many questions as he leans heavily to the right while Sharon grabs the center.  The primaries are the big issue for the parties, yet the public attaches much more importance to the elections themselves.  The Likud may be leaning to the right but the public demands a more centrist approach. 

Knowing this, Netanyahu has begun to play the domestic issues card, extolling his ‘successful’ economic policies when he was premier (1996 – 99) and his MBA.  The are two major factors in the present recession; the continuing Palestinian violence which will only stop if the Palestinians put an end to it but will not since it serves Arafat’s purposes and those of the Islamic organizations and the world wide high tech ‘bubble burst’ which is completely beyond Israel’s control.  The public is fully aware of both.

So why the Netanyahu challenge?  There is a possibility he will win, but if not he is in position to take over in four years since no one expects Sharon to run again in 2007 at the age of 79.

On the Labor scene Haim Ramon is now firmly in last place, yet he is the youngest of the candidates and can always come away as a compromise, either now or several years down the road.  Ben Eliezer is discredited with much of the Left because of his previous position in the National Unity Government.  That leaves Amram Mitzna, said to be leading with 44% in the Labor party primary polls.  He has no experience in national politics and leans heavily to the left, being willing to talk peace with Arafat or any other Palestinian while terrorist attacks continue unabated.  This sounds very much like the left wing Meretz party stance.

Mitzna is reported ready to give up virtually all territories and remove settlements in the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) and Gaza, leading to a head on clash even with many Jewish residents whose settlement blocs are within the national consensus.  To form a government it is reported he would make wide ranging concessions to the ultra-orthodox parties to enforce such a policy.  It appears neither Shas nor United Torah Judaism would join a left wing government remembering the debacle of the Barak coalition (1999 – 2001). 

Should Mitzna lead the party the Left will poll less votes since he will draw off many votes from Meretz and the Center will go elsewhere.  Since 1996 the Left has spent a lot of time shooting itself in the foot.

Should Netanyahu win his party’s leadership the Right may take a cue from Labor and begin loading its pistols.