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Friday, November 27, 2009

Does Netanyahu want to be the next Sharon?

Haaretz's Yossi Verter suggests that what Prime Minister Netanyahu may really want is to become the next Ariel Sharon, with Ehud Barak playing the role of Shimon Peres.
Some even speculate that Netanyahu, like Sharon, is planning a far-reaching political move that will enable him, buoyed by wide public support, to break Likud up once again on the eve on the next elections and establish the new Likud with his partner Ehud Barak. The latter, at least, would be glad to leave his ailing party with its huge debts behind and join Bibi for another political upheaval - as Sharon and Peres did in forming Kadima.

At the beginning of the week, the prime minister promised the Likud faction to that he would get the Shalit deal approved by both the cabinet and Knesset.

The next day, on a tour of the police headquarters in Jerusalem, he announced that he would bring the deal "to the cabinet and to a public debate." This was a small, imperceptible retreat. If the Knesset approves the deal with a small majority, he would rather drop it. Netanyahu wants an impressive majority of at least 70 MKs against 10-15 objectors at the most.

Such a majority would alleviate his agonizing. Thus, covertly, the prime minister's men began asking the various Knesset factions about their stance regarding the deal, should there be a Knesset debate.
While there is something to this, there are also a lot of differences that make it unlikely. First, Sharon grew up on the Left and was at least as comfortable being there as he was on the Right. Sharon was a bit like a certain blogger many of us know, who switched from Left to Right after 9/11 and has now gone back to the Left since Obama acceded to power. Sharon grew up on the Left, switched to the Right in the late '70's and switched back to the Left in 2003 or 2004. Netanyahu grew up on the Right. He's not comfortable on the Left (he's comfortable with Barak because Barak seems to have some red lines, unlike most of the Left).

Second, for Netanyahu to make this kind of switch, he's going to have to come up with some way to find someone on the other side with whom he can talk. Because Netanyahu won't give up on Jerusalem and won't withdraw from territory unilaterally, if he wants to advance the 'peace process,' he needs a negotiating partner. He doesn't have one and he knows it. I believe that what Netanyahu really wants is to say to the Left, "see, I tried, now why do you all still hate me so much?"

Third, Israeli Jews are well to the Right of where Netanyahu is right now. When Sharon wanted to expel all the Jews from Gaza, if he had taken a referendum of the entire country, he would have won a narrow majority. His problem was that because a referendum of the country was so complicated to set up, he only took a referendum of the Likud, which did not support him, and which eventually necessitated his break with the Likud. Netanyahu cannot get support for any deal that the 'Palestinians' will buy except from the Far Left and the 'Israeli Arabs.' And he knows it.

Fourth, Netanyahu has become a follower who is trying to maintain Israel's relations with a hostile administration in Washington (yes, Limor Livnat was right about that). Sharon was initiating things like the Gaza expulsion. Netanyahu is not convinced that further concessions to the 'Palestinians' are the right thing to do, so he won't initiate them, although he may not resist them as vigorously as he ought to resist them.

Fifth, Judea and Samaria are not Gaza. A majority of Jewish Israelis wanted to get us out of Gaza for most of the period from 1987 (the start of the 'first intifada') until 2005. Gaza was always regarded as an ungovernable terror hotbed. No, I don't believe that perception of Gaza was correct (I believe that if we had gone all-out we could have kept it), and I believe that expelling its Jews and abandoning it was a mistake. But it had far less strategic military (and for that matter, religious) value than Judea and Samaria, which are far closer to 'our backyard.' It was far easier to walk away from Gaza than it would be to walk away from Judea and Samaria. And a lot of people believe that by walking away from Gaza, Sharon was trying to set the 'Palestinians' up for failure so that no one (he thought) would pressure us to walk away from Judea and Samaria.

Sixth, as I have discussed many times, Sharon had a series of criminal cases hanging over his head, and felt that by walking away from Gaza, he could get the Leftist prosecutors off his case. Netanyahu hasn't been under any investigation since shortly after he was ousted as Prime Minister the first time (there was a small to-do over the costs of a trip to London during the Second Lebanon War, but it turns out that Netanyahu bore all the personal expenses himself and the furor died down). He has no incentive to mollify the Left by endangering the country in order to save himself or his family members from jail.

So while Verter's comparison has some validity, I believe that it is far-fetched.


At 10:34 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

Moshe Feiglin says the same thing Haaretz's Yossi Verter does. However, I do think Barak will eventually take his rump Labor faction into the Likud. He likes being Defense Minister, which is the only job he will probably have. Netanyahu wants to deal with Iran and he knows the Palestinians are not ready for a compromise peace. What he is doing is clearing the decks for Iran. And keeping the Americans happy and having Barak on board is a small price to pay for dealing with the far greater threat on the horizon.


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