Friday, November 01, 2002
Israel’s evening news programme Mabat reported last night that Labour cabinet members are furious at Ben Eliezer’s decision to withdraw from the coalition – and rightly so, it seems to me. In the current Knesset and with the National Unity government, they enjoyed a position that goes far beyond their support amongst the people, they “balanced” out the right (or at the very least kept the far-right parties out of power), and were associated with a government that enjoyed quite a large amount of popular support. True, it was difficult to walk the fine line between waging a war and pursuing peace; but with Ben Eliezer and Defense Minister and Peres as Foreign Minister, Israel presented an image of a country at war in spite of itself, that was ready to make peace if only it could find a responsible Palestinian leadership with whom it could deal.
Now, Sharon is goading the Left with his talk of inviting Lieberman into the cabinet, and will prove to the Labour party that he can do quite well without them. On the internal-political level, he indeed can. As I mentioned yesterday, all indications are that if an election were to be held in the next few months, the Left would crumble.
Even if Mitznah, the latest panacea for the ailing Olso dream, wins the race for the Labour leadship, will be forced to answer some difficult questions during the campaign. What is his final goal for the peace process? Where will the border lie, and will he uproot settlements? What is his position on Jerusalem and the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes? What security guarantees can he provide? What will he do if his negotiations with Arafat fail? How will he deal with terror? What will he do if the terror returns to its pre-Defensive Shield levels? Personally, I would prefer to see Mitznah as leader of the party than Ramon, who has always struck me as an opportunist of no particular merit. (By contrast, I was always very fond of Ben Eliezer until his latest favour-seeking maneuvers; well, nobody’s perfect.)
In the meantime, Sharon is going about the business of getting a government together. Yesterday, Shaul Mofaz met with Sharon and was offered the Defense portfolio. This strikes me as a very bad move, and its repercussions are already being felt in the Likud itself. The Labour and Likud (and indeed the whole country) are still smarting from the meteoric rise of the Young Outsiders – Bibi and Barak – who enjoyed the Cult of the Personality but proved themselves totally ineffective in power, leading to a series of short-lived governments and terrible instability. The recruitment of Mofaz as defense minister, just months after he completed his term as Commander in Chief, is also a disturbing repetition of the Yitzhak Morechai-Amnon Lipkin-Ehud Barak scenario, whereby a senior military figure builds for himself a political career while still in uniform. (This was particularly pronounced in the case of Barak, whose political machinations while serving in uniform were blatant.)
I find myself in agreement with the Likud hacks that this is not a good move – not only because I don’t find Mofaz to be a particularly appealing prospect politically (he’s actually more intelligent than he appears), but also because I agree that there ought to be a “cooling off” period during which retiring senior officers should not be allowed to hold ministerial positions. This won’t stop senior officers from expressing political views, but it will mean that they cannot expect immediate gain from such statements.
Several names are being suggested for this position, from the ridiculous (Avigdor Lieberman) to the sublime (Dan Meridor). I hope that reason will prevail, and that Israel will have a foreign minister who can find respect around the world. Meridor would seem to me to be the best suited candidate: soft spoken, intelligent, experienced, and moderate while being non-apologetic.
The BBC reports:
Mr Sharon's narrow ad-hoc coalition faces its first crucial test in a no-confidence vote which the left-wing Meretz Party has tabled for Monday.
All the pundits here agree that Sharon will easily pass this vote. Nobody wants to go to elections immediately before they know how the field is playing.
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