Thursday, January 30, 2003
A very smart and knowledgeable friend thinks I've got the whole Lapid story wrong. He was right once before, predicting the night the plug was pulled on the PM by the court that this was the "Wellstone Funeral" moment that would lead Likud to a landslide victory. Now he predicts that Lapid will join the government to serve as Justice Minister (which he has said is the post he wants if he joins).
Could be. So here's an alternative scenario for the game Tommy is playing: he's trying to eliminate the Labor party.
Look, the country wants a government of national unity with Sharon at its head. Every poll says so. Only two people ran explicitly on that platform in the election: Sharon and Lapid. If Lapid manages to get Labor to join a secular coalition government (presumably with the National Religious Party as the Zionist representative of the religious, a party Lapid has no problem with), then he has delivered to the voters what the voters most want. And if that happens, why would anyone to the right of Meretz vote Labor in the next election?
Lapid can put Labor in an untenable position. By refusing to join a government without both Labor and Likud, and with Likud willing to accept Labor, Lapid gives Labor two choices. They can refuse to accept the results of this election, remain in opposition, and risk Sharon calling new elections. This could not possibly be good for Labor. Or, they can reverse their core position of the campaign: no coalition with Sharon at its head. And they will have done so at Lapid's behest. In which case, why should any voter bother voting Labor next time?
Lapid can also put Sharon in a tough box, if he convinces Labor to change its position from "no unity government under Sharon" to "no unity government with either Shas or National Union." This would force Sharon either to snub Shas - something electorally perilous - or to refuse an offer for national unity, and form the right-wing government he wants to avoid. (Or call new elections, which would be disastrous under the circumstances.)
I still think the right thing is to say: it's not about which parties I sit with; it's about the coalition guidelines. Lapid should say: I am willing to join Sharon's government, with or without Labor, provided that government will end draft exemptions for yeshivah students and provided that the government will agree to negotiations under whatever framework emerges from the Quartet. I think that would be better for Israel's political culture, which is descending into a second-grade classroom of who won't sit next to whom. And I think it would just as decisively weaken the Labor party, which would have little explanation for why it refused to join a government with such congenial guidelines. (It wouldn't, of course, be threatening at all to Sharon or Likud, which is probably a reason why I think it's a better idea.)
In any event, I wish I were a fly on the wall for these conversations. Can't be fun for Mitzna.