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Terror, the War in Iraq and Elections

27 December 2002

By Yisrael Ne’eman

Last night Israel killed eight Palestinians in gun battles and arrested another eight suspected terrorists.  Which of course begs the question whether this is good or bad for the Likud electoral chances.  The Palestinian Authority claims PM Ariel Sharon is ordering more and more aggressive tactics towards its population in order to score points with the Israeli electorate.  A similar accusation is being made by Meretz and Labor concerning the PM’s visit to the Home Front Command to ensure all is ready in the event of Iraqi scuds landing on Israel once an American attack begins.  Are both election ploys and propaganda?

Israel’s ongoing operations in the West Bank and Gaza will continue as long as there are more leads concerning terror cells and bomb factories and it does not matter who is in the defense ministry.  And there are plenty.  Defense policy has not changed in the past two months since Labor quit the national unity government.  Had Labor stayed in the NUG, Benyamin Ben Eliezer would still be defense minister and responsible along with Sharon for defeating Palestinian terrorism and ensuring Israel’s readiness in the face of an Iraqi scud attack.  When Labor quit the government they knew fully the advantages of incumbency to be exploited by the Likud.

There are those who claim a successful terror attack aids the Right since people will demand revenge while others claim it aids the Left since it reveals the bankruptcy of the Sharon government policies towards the Palestinians.  The argument is not only inane, but insane and the same goes for the Iraqi scud debate.  Polls have shown consistently the population trusts the Likud on security issues much more than anyone on the Left.  Sharon is seen as guaranteeing much more security than Labor candidate Amram Mitzna.

And that is the reason the Likud appears on its way to an election victory.

… Now the Domestic Front

The opposite is true for the economy.  The Likud is known for bringing a false prosperity that ends in serious recession (Begin and Shamir governments, 1977 – 1984) or for buckling under to their ultra orthodox and right wing junior coalition partners with over funding for yeshivas and new settlement activity in Judea and Samaria (Shamir government 1990 –1992).   Even Benyamin Netanyahu (1996 – 1999) who has an MBA and should know better gave in to such pressures during an ongoing recession, although on a much reduced level.  For two years Likud finance minister Sylvan Shalom has not been able to rescue Israel from a deepening recession and almost depression, much of it from factors beyond his control such as the Palestinian violence and the high tech market collapse.   The Likud is still blamed, the yeshiva and settlement budgets still being big issues.

But when choosing between security and economic priorities, Israelis on a whole will choose security first, giving the Likud the advantage despite a series of scandals during their primaries.  Anyone leaving the Likud will not go to Labor for fear of endangering his own physical security.  Instead he will move to the centrist Shinui party who is viewed as having the answers at least in part to Israel’s economic woes. 

Faction leader Tommy Lapid is leaving the tactical issues of security in Sharon’s hands and therefore is playing up to Likud dropouts.  But Lapid managed to sound a trifle ridiculous this week when he attacked Mitzna for demanding the unilateral evacuation of settlements in Gaza and areas of the West Bank with heavy Arab populations while at the same time condemning Sharon for not speaking of any evacuation of Jewish populations despite his supposed plan for a Palestinian state.  He did not explain the ‘Shinui Plan’ if there is one.

But one senses nuances and overtones leaning towards Sharon as the Likud moderate.  Luckily for Shinui his foreign policy statements will be ignored and the assumption will be made that he falls somewhere between Left and Right. 

Shinui will gain support on two fronts:  The party is seen as the most honest faction in the Knesset according to last week’s poll in Ma’ariv and people do expect they can implement a Labor style economic reform without the accompanying dovish defense and foreign policy.