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SHARON BULLDOZER

Maariv Poll: 'Sharon Would Win 30 Knesset Seats To Only 15 For Netanyahu's Likud'

Netanyahu: 'I'm Not surprised By Poll, Israeli Voters Will Soon Wake Up & See That A Vote For Sharon Is A Vote For Labor'

PM Sharon | MK Netanyahu

The Sharon 'bulldozer' that erected the Likud party more than thirty years ago has now demolished it. Twenty-four hours after Sharon announced that he was quitting the Likud, a Maariv daily poll forecast that a Netanyahu-lead Likud would garner only 15 seats in the upcoming election. That's just half of the 30 for Sharon who is expected to be overall winner; Labor would come in second with 26. Netanyahu propelled the anti-Sharon drive in the Likud, eventually forcing the Prime Minister to quit because of what he called the 'unbearable' situation. The morning after, Netanyahu and the rest of the Likud have awakened with the Chinese proverb ringing in their ears: 'Beware of ever getting your wish!'

The poll shows that Sharon could muster a coalition majority of some 70 in the 120 member Knesset to include Labor, Shinui and possibly even Meretz. Netanyahu of the Likud would fall short of the required 61-seat majority. He could muster, at best, only 50 with the far right, the ultra-orthodox and Shinui. Is Netanyahu surprised by the poll? No, he replies, it's no wonder after Sharon pulled the eyes of Israeli voters by saying one thing and doing another. Netanyahu charges that Sharon plans on carrying out more 'unilateral retreats' and evacuating dozens of more settlements for nothing. In an interview with Israel Radio, Netanyahu charged that Sharon was ready to withdraw to the old 1967 lines and partition Jerusalem. He went to say that a vote for Sharon would be a vote for Labor. In another interview, Netanyahu called Sharon a 'dictator'. As for the polls, Netanyahu said he was that Israeli voters would wake up and see that Sharon was heading for another Oslo disaster. Therefore, Netanyahu believes he will the Likud nomination and go on to win the election.

Likud Leadership Race: Uzi Landau would also lead the Likud to 15 seats. Two other candidates, Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom and Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz would follow with 13 mandates each. The poor showing by Sharon could spur on Silvan Shalom. Former Finance Minister Netanyahu is blamed by many low-income Sephardi voters in the development towns for the harsh economic measures that have dropped them below the poverty line. Many of these voters vote traditionally for the Likud. However, what happens if they jeer Netanyahu when he heads on the campaign trail. Silvan Shalom, who was born in Tunisia, could turn into the Likud's answer to newly elected Labor party leader Amir Peretz who was born in Morocco.

As for Peretz, he is being viewed as 'one of our guys' by many Sephardi voters. Peretz has proved to be a fiery orator and could spark the mass enthusiasm that the late Likud leader Menachem Begin was famous for.

The poll also surveyed voter attitudes. When it comes to national security and the Palestinian issue, Sharon wins hands down scoring over fifty percent. Netanyahu came in second with just over twenty percent with Peretz trailing with just over ten percent. However, when it comes to the social welfare that has now come to the fore, Peretz wins big with over fifty percent of Israelis saying he is best qualified to set policy. Again Netanyahu enjoys only 16 percent credibility. This survey explains why Sharon, Peretz and Netanyahu are now running one, two and three in the race. Netanyahu has a long way to go, if he wins the Likud nomination, to catch up with Sharon and Peretz. At this point it appears to be Mr Security (Ariel Sharon) squaring off with Mr. Social Welfare (Amir Peretz).

The very positive poll for Sharon will induce 'attractive' candidates to jump on his bandwagon. Sharon already has 14 former Likud cabinet ministers and MKs on board. Labor cabinet minister, an archrival of Peretz, is also rumored to join Sharon's new party. As for former party leader Shimon who suffered a stinging defeat to Peretz, Sharon signaled that he is not interested in Peres's support when he cracked: 'Peres is probably fed up with politics'.

IDF Forces Near Lebanon

Hezbollah Flare-up: The frontier between Israel and Lebanon is now quiet after the fiercest Hezbollah barrage since the IDF withdrew from all of Lebanon in May 2000. Israeli civilians were instructed to come out of their bomb shelters and children went to school. On a tour of the area, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz and Chief of Staff Dan Halutz revealed that Israel had reacted with a counter strike of artillery and aircraft hitting Hezbollah targets that had not been attacked previously. In fact, the Lebanese government then appealed to Israel through international channels to halt the fighting. Both Mofaz and Halutz warned the IDF would hit back hard if there are more Hezbollah attacks. Eleven Israelis were injured and several Hezbollah gunmen were killed when they attempted to kidnap IDF soldiers during the heavy shelling.

Today, Lebanon is celebrating its Independence Day while the Lebanese government does nothing to stop Hezbollah from launching attacks from Lebanese territory. The Israeli policy is not to fall into the Hezbollah trap by starting a major conflagration in response to the provocations. This course of action could:

  • Persuade the Lebanese they need Hezbollah to counter Israeli 'aggression'
  • Take the heat off Syria for its involvement in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri
  • Take the heat off Iran's nuclear weapons development

    Keeping in mind the public opinion poll, the latest flare-up or any other terror attacks tend to boost voter support for Sharon in the campaign.

    David Essing

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