More trouble looms for Sharon despite party win
By Chris Otton
Matters are likely to get even worse after the next general election with the next crop of Likud MPs seen as much more pro-Netanyahu than pro-Sharon
PRIME Minister Ariel Sharon may have won vital time in the battle for the leadership of Israel’s governing Likud party but he is far from delivering a knock-out blow to his challenger Benjamin Netanyahu.
Sharon scraped home by a mere 104 majority among the 3,050 members of Likud’s central committee who had been asked Monday to approve plans for a leadership primary to be moved up from April to November.
But while any victory over his much younger arch-rival is one for Sharon to savour, the premier is well aware his prospects of survival both at the helm of his party after April and of government much beyond the new year are far from assured. “He was able to knock Netanyahu down to the ground, but Netanyahu will get up and the fight continues,” said Israeli analyst Gideon Doron.
Having managed to pull troops and settlers out of Gaza and overcoming the threat of November elections, the 77-year-old Sharon might have felt entitled to a bit of a breather. A new crisis however is already on the horizon with the parliament having to approve next year’s budget in three readings by the end of December.
The centrist Labour party only entered a coalition government to support the Gaza pullout. With that having been wrapped up last month, the party must now decide whether to keep propping up Sharon or take its chances against a divided Likud at early elections rather than wait until November 2006.
“Labour may not support Sharon on this issue. They are not promising to go forward” with the coalition, said Doron of Tel Aviv university. “The government will not be able to pass the budget if Labour and Netanyahu’s team vote against it.”
While Monday night’s vote has again saddled the 55-year-old Netanyahu with the loser tag, his determination to regain the premiership he lost in a crushing 1999 election defeat is such that Sharon can expect frequent ambushes.
According to veteran commentator Yoram Peri, Sharon should not interpret Monday’s result as a vote of loyalty.
“People said yesterday: ‘Why should we end term of this government when we can stay in power for another six months and milk the cow as much as we can?’
“But deep in their hearts, they hate Sharon. Many groups in the party cannot accept Sharon’s new policy, then there are those who hate him personally and many people continue to believe he will leave the party.” Sharon long ago lost the ability to rely on the support of a majority of Likud’s 40 MPs who, like many others in the right-wing party, felt betrayed by the one-time arch hawk’s decision to exit Gaza.
Matters are likely to get even worse after the next general election with the next crop of Likud MPs seen as much more pro-Netanyahu than pro-Sharon.
As his control of Likud ebbs, speculation that he will try to split along with allies such as Finance Minister Ehud Olmert has mushroomed.
“I believe he does not want to split because history does not favour one who splits from the party but he understands he cannot control the party anymore,” said Peri. With Likud divided, Labour still in disarray after its worst ever election peformance in 2003 and the pullout having shaken up all equations, many believe that now may be the time for a realignment of Israeli politics.
“There was never a situation where the formal political map was in such disharmony from Israeli civil society,” said Peri. Sima Kadmon of the top-selling Yediot Aharonot daily said there was still every possibility that Sharon would quit Likud as he is aware of the resentment of rank and file party members.
“He won back his prerogative to choose among the various options available to him at a timing that most suits him. It does not mean that he is going to stay in the Likud,” she wrote. afp