Wednesday, February 05, 2003
You want my opinion? I think Tommy Lapid's Shinui is making an ass of itself.
I said before: Shinui should never have campaigned against a political party (Shas) but only against particular policies (high taxation, draft exemptions for yeshivah students, religious monopoly on marriage, etc.). They should then set their conditions for joining a coalition and, if they are met, join.
So now, Shinui has essentially dropped all its conditions. It will sit, perhaps, with UTJ, the Ashkenazi ultra-Orthodox party, a party that will never agree to reforming draft exemptions. And it will join a right-wing government without Labor. But it will not sit with Shas.
Shas is accusing them of "racism" for refusing to sit with Sephardim. How wrong is that charge? Shinui now says that the difference between Shas and UTJ is that Shas demands ministry portfolios. Why is that decisive? And why is giving UTJ the chair of the Knesset Finance Committee any different?
The hollowness of Shinui's program is being exposed before the world. What will they show their voters by way of accomplishment, whether they join a government without Shas or stay out because Shas is in, now that they have made it clear that their principles are for sale?
Shinui stands for an important demographic, and it has certain positions that are important for Israel. Israel needs reform of the religious status-quo. It needs to liberalize its economy. I wish I felt more confident that Tommy Lapid was aiming to achieve these things, and not just grandstand. I previously thought he was grandstanding and didn't want power. Now I think he's grandstanding and *does* want power. My core feelings about his character haven't changed, however.
It seems to me, though, that Sharon now has a tough decision to make. It looks less and less likely that he's going to get Labor onboard. And it looks less likely that short-term there's going to be a split in Labor ranks. His best hope is just to peel off Peres. With his new electoral strength, he doesn't need National Union. So his main question is whether to or not to snub Shas. Doing so would be very risky for him. But he badly wants a centrist party at the heart of his coalition, and if he isn't going to get Labor then he needs Shinui.
Probably his best move is to put reform of the religious establishment into his coalition guidelines and publicly reach out to both Shas and Shinui to accept those guidelines. That would put pressure on Shas to decide which it wants more: to feed at the government trough or to stay true to *its* principles. And it would put pressure on Shinui to decide if it is out to accomplish reform or out to make permanent war with Shas.
Of course, this is all ultimately academic. The most likely scenario is that we get a wall-to-wall unity government as soon as the fighting starts in Iraq, and the whole game begins again after the fighting stops. And by that time, the whole world may have changed.