Friday, November 15, 2002
New election polls from Israel suggest (a) a clear Sharon victory over Netanyahu; (b) a clear Mitzna victory over Ben-Eliezer; (c) a weaker showing for Shas and a stronger showing for Likud than I had projected previously. The most recent numbers I've seen look something like this:
* Labor gets 18 to 20 seats. I assume Meimad runs with Labor and they get 20 together. That's down marginally from 25 currently.
* Likus gets 35 seats, with Gesher and Center non-existent and Yisrael B'Aliyah running separately and getting 5 seats. For the center-right bloc of Likud-Gesher-Center-YB'A, that's 40 seats, up from 30 currently for the same bloc.
* T'chelet (the former National Union-Yisrael Beiteinu) gets 9 seats, up from 7. NRP gets only 4 - a shocker, that; I thought they would add seats, not lose them (they now have 5). Herut goes from 1 seat to zero, for net no change for the far right: 13 seats before, 13 now. (Though you could argue that, since Herut will never join any government, it shoudn't be counted as part of this bloc, the rest of which is in play.)
* Shas declines from 17 to 10 seats. UTJ holds steady at 5. The ultra-Orthodox bloc thus declines from 22 to 15.
* Shinui rockets from 6 seats to 12. Shinui is probably best described as a Pym Fortuyn-esque party: center-right on security matters, economically liberal (in the European sense of free-market), but fundamentally organized as an anti-religious party aimed at breaking the influence of the ultra-Orthodox on Israeli politics. It's also headed by an iconoclastic public personality, in Shinui's a radio talk-show host and Holocaust survivor named Danny Lapid.
* Meretz stays relatively static at 10 seats.
* The Arab parties stay collectively static at 10 seats.
* The remaining tiny parties - such as Democratic Choice and One Nation - vanish, thanks to the new election law.
Sharon's party and its most natural partners will have 40 seats. He needs 21 more to form a government. Based on the above, he can achieve this with any two of the following blocs:
Ultra Orthodox (Shas + UTJ): 15 seats
Secularist Center-Right (Shinui): 12 seats
Far Right (NRP + T'chelet): 13 seats
Center-Left (Labor + Meimad): 20 seats
Since Shinui won't sit with the ultra-Orthodox and Labor won't sit with the Far Right (assuming Mitzna would form a national unity government at all, which he probably wouldn't), that gives Sharon 4 coalition choices:
Ultra-Orthodox + Far Right. This is the Netanyahu coalition from his last government.
Ultra-Orthodox + Labor. This is the National Unity coalition of the outgoing Sharon government.
Shinui + Far Right.
Shinui + Labor.
The strength of Shinui, in other words, considerably strengthens Sharon's hand in dealing with the ultra-Orthodox. And that, in turn, strengthens his hand in dealing with either Labor or the Far Right. That is good for Sharon. But it is also good for Israel. I'm more optimistic about the upcoming elections than I have been in a while.
As an aside, I've been asked why I favor Sharon over Netanyahu. It's a good question, since I favor the Bibi program of eliminating Arafat and freeing up the economy, as against Sharon's program which is focused on isolating and containing Arafat and imposing economic austerity. There are three reasons.
First, Bibi is a liar. He has lied about everything to everybody just about all the time. He lied to his cabinet, he lied to the American President (who was also a liar, of course), and he lied to himself. I don't like liars. Sharon has offered nothing but blood, sweat and tears. But he's been pretty honest. So if Bibi wins, how much confidence can I have that he will implement his beautiful program. Answer: none.
Second, Bibi is an egotist. It is all about him. He would happily rip the country apart if it helped him win an election. He's effectively doing that now; if he would simply support Sharon, he'd be next in line for the PM spot. Bibi is young; Sharon is old. He could do far more for his country and, ultimately, his career by closing ranks. But he wants to be the big man, and he can't do it by sitting in Sharon's shadow. More even than Shimon Peres, I question Netanyahu's love of country. Sharon, by contrast, is a true patriot. That doesn't mean he's always right and it doesn't mean he isn't political. But it does mean that his ultimate motives are good: he wants to strengthen and defend Israel. I can't say the same about Netanyahu.
Third, the things Sharon is right about are more important than the things Bibi is right about. Bibi is more right about the economy and more right about how Arafat must be dealt with. But Sharon has placed a priority on Israel's relationship with America and on maintaining national unity. And Sharon is right. Israel's greatest strength in the current crisis is not her boldness in action but her firmness. Bibi has often been bold, but he has not shown firm resolve. And he cannot - and does not understand how to - unite the country. Nor does he understand how to play the foreign relations game. Bibi famously allied himself with the Gingrinch Congress. This got him lots of friendly press and favorable Congressional resolutions. But it earned him the undying enmity of the President of the United States, Bill Clinton - who then, taking his cue from Bibi, intervened egregiously in the Israeli elections to ensure the election of Ehud Barak. Sharon has learned from this mistake. Bibi hasn't.