TCS Daily

After Sharon

By Robert Spain - January 10, 2006 12:00 AM

In last Wednesday's Haaretz, political correspondent Yossi Verter noted that the re-emergence of corruption allegations against Ariel Sharon would not be enough to prevent him remaining Prime Minister. For this "Something very serious has to happen". That evening Sharon had a major stroke that he may not recover from.

While his legacy is already being discussed, he leaves the national stage at a time of political uncertainty for Israel. There is an election coming up in less than three months and his new governing party is only half-formed, and lacking a formal succession process.

So what does the future hold?

The Kadima ("Forward" in Hebrew) party Sharon founded upon leaving Likud had coalesced around his leadership. There was little in the way of a concrete ideology or party platform. Constant polling took place to determine the electoral effects of accepting new members. Even the name of the party was chosen through focus groups. The disparate party members have little in common other than their desire for a safe seat in the next Knesset and the belief that support for Sharon would bring them this. This is not to say that they don't have ideologies of their own -- no doubt that is where some of the cracks will appear further down the line when actual policies are needed. "Kadima with Arik's (Sharon) vision" won't be enough to prevent the party's decline.

But for now the conflicts will be over the order of the list that Kadima submits for the elections. There are no party members or structures to determine this. The only party institution was Sharon himself, along with his coterie of powerful pollsters and advisors. Lacking this, members will begin to jostle for positions:

  • This problem aside, who is to say how to order the various middle-grade ministers? And exactly which place in the top 5 does Peres' Nobel prize earn him? The permutations that will reveal themselves will all claim to represent Sharon's intentions, even when they bare little resemblance to each other.

  • Finally, there's the problem of who gets ministries and committee chairs after the elections. This will leave many feeling that they have lost something in process.

Most Likud-departees have lost very little. They are more likely to be re-elcted to the Knesset under Kadima's banner than they were in the Likud, where their support for the Gaza withdrawal was expected to harm their chances of getting a safe seat.

However, there are those who chose to follow Sharon despite there being other options on the table. They may encounter problems with the departure of their patron.

Consider men like:

  • Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz, who, rather than joining Sharon out of principle, followed once he knew he was not going to be annointed Sharon's replacement as Likud leader.

  • Former Shin Bet chief Avi Dichter who now cannot count upon any inducements previously made to him.

  • Or Kadima Director-General Avigdor Yitzhaki (close to Sharon), who is now exposed to the enmity he has earned from politicians across the spectrum.

Yet, as Israelis turn rightward in these times of uncertainty, the centre-left as a whole can be expected to suffer. So while Labour leader Amir Peretz's flaws and mistakes remain, his excuse for failure now lies in a coma. (Far-left) Meretz leader Yossi Beilin has seen his party's small support decline in opposition, in part due to his ineptitude in running it. His intention to join a centrist Sharon-led government is unlikely to help him much now. And there is not likely to be much succor for Shinui leader Tommy Lapid, who has secured no accomplishments for his constituency despite almost 7 years in the Knesset. A poll taken before Sharon's (second) stroke showed Shinui dropping from 15 mandates to 0. This will be reversed when the standard anti-Orthodox campaign coincides with an Olmert visit to a religious leader at some point during the campaign, but not by much.

Ultimately the main winners in this situation are Sharon's replacements: Ehud Olmert as leader of Kadima and Binyamin "Bibi" Netanyahu as leader of Likud. Both are now in leading parties, and so are the leading contenders to be Prime Minister. Failing that, they can expect senior ministries, especially Olmert whose party will be more pivotal in coalition negotiations. Yet Netanyahu will see a resurgence in his party, as it gains more confidence. The expected defection of activists following Likud primaries will be thoroughly dampened, so there will be more people knocking on doors and picking up pensioners on Election Day. Plus, Bibi's previous experience as Prime Minister will help him hit the ground running in two ways: he knows how to run a campaign against the background of a Prime Minister's incapacitation, and he is already skilled at stalling the peace process (admittedly he had a lot of help from his counterpart), even when the US administration actually considered it a priority.

Thus, in as much as there is a process, the outlook isn't positive and not all due to the chance that Netanyahu will have a direct influence within a few months. Although Olmert will try to take no serious actions until the Israeli public cannot react, he may have few options. Some Palestinian extremists recently announced their ceasefire has expired. (Am I the only one who finds ironic Islamic organisations using New Year's Eve in the Christian calendar as a reference date?) Such means a threat of suicide bombings in the near future and a reaction to international attempts at excluding Hamas from the political process. Assuming Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas does not delay the Palestinian elections, Hamas is likely to share power in the Palestinian Authority. Exactly how or how much power is unclear.

Robert Spain is a writer living in Europe.



Moderates lose again
I had such hope for Sharon's Kadima party -- but now I feel as though Likud has snatched victory from defeat. The one real bright-spot in the Middle East has dimmed and a renewed committment to war seems certain.

Am I the only one who finds ironic Islamic organisations using New Year’s Eve in the Christian calen
Yes you are as it has not been seen as Catholic calendar for many years. It's a secular calendar controlled by secular groups.

Could you clarify your post?

Apologies, I just spotted your response.

Could you clarify your post please: I made no mention of Catholics but Christians, who instituted the system that we use.

Muslims have a separate and distinct calendar which follows the moon rather than the sun.

Irrespective of who "controls" the calendar (and I suggest that the calendar needs little controlling nowadays) it still seems ironic, whether it is for religious (Muslim vs Christian or even secular calendar) or astronomical (lunar vs solar) reasons.

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