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Likud MK Landau: 'The Battle for Gaza is the Battle for Jerusalem!'

Labor MK Shochatt: 'Netanyahu Won't Try to Topple Sharon before Disengagement; Early Election Is More Probable After Withdrawal'

Likud (Archive)

Prime Minister Sharon's ruling Likud party was battered from within this week; 27 of Likud's 40 MKs in the 120 member House voted for the national referendum against the position of their own leader, Ariel Sharon. The Likud's big guns lined up against Sharon: Finance Minister Bibi Netanyahu, Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom and Education Minister Limor Livnat.The referendum gambit was widely viewed as a device for delaying and perhaps totally tordepoeing the evacuation, which is officially rejected the Likud although it's their leader's idea. So how long can this abnormal, perhaps absurd situation go in inside the country's ruling party?

Will the real, authentic Likud members stand up? Put that question to the 40 Likud Kneset members and they will all jump to their feet, those for and those against Sharon’s withdrawal plan. As you are about to hear, tempers are running high in the Likud and the language is at times not politically correct.

MK Uzi Landau

The so-called Likud ‘rebels’, who vehemently oppose Sharon’s withdrawal, are lead by MK Uzi Landau, recently fired from the cabinet by the Prime Minister. Landau argues that a Likud party referendum rejected the disengagement and a majority of Likud Knesset members also turn thumbs down, but Sharon pays no attention; he makes deals with opposition parties and even buys support. Case in point, the Prime minister named 3 more cabinet ministers and 7 deputy ministers as a reward for supporting him on the withdrawal. Even in the hurly-burly of Israeli politics, Dr Landau shocked many when he lashed out at the Prime Minister: [Audio - Landau]

After winning big on the budget and against the referendum, Sharon took a fall over the cabinet appointments. Even many of his supporters accused him of an attack of hubris - he lost in the Knesset on three full cabinet appointments; seven deputy appointments did not require Knesset approval.

So where does all this leave the Likud party, is it about to split over the disengagement? Landau draws upon Winston Churchill comparing the Battle of Britain to the Battle for Jerusalem and Gaza: [Audio - Landau]

A number of Sharon supporters will say quietly that the Prime minister blundered by making political payoffs at a time of financial belt tightening in Israel. No Likudniks dared to say so publicly. In fact, Sharon’s strongest supporter these days is none other than Shimon Peres of the Labor party. Peres contends what do people want of Sharon, the Knesset is so split over the withdrawal, the Prime minister has to make deals. In the stormy debate in the House, Vice Premier Peres also took Sharon’s side against Likud critics. Peres praised the Prime Minister for telling the country the harsh truth; that it was in the national interest to evacuate from Gaza.

So, is the Likud headed for a meltdown? One Likud Minister says his party colleagues are caught between a rock and a hard place: the party’s central committee and Ariel Sharon. They realize that Sharon is still the most popular leader in the country today; that is why Bibi Netanyahu has backed down from an all out challenge to Sharon’s leadership although he calls the withdrawal is a big mistake. The ‘rebels’ may have a cause, but without Netanyahu they have no one who could seriously take on Sharon. Then again, even (with a big E), if the Likud ousted the Prime Minister, he would come back to haunt them in a new election. Labor MK Beiga Shochatt is one of the most veteran and shrewdest political observers in the Knesset; this is how he analyzes the situation in the Likud party at week’s end: [Audio - Shochatt]

MK Beiga Shochatt

Labor’s Beiga Shochatt. In a new development, Netanyahu attended a memorial service for Sharon’s late wife, Lily. The Finance Minister received an invitation for the annual service, which is attended by close friends and only a few politicians. This is being viewed as a gesture of conciliation after Netanyahu voted for the referendum, publicly criticized the unilateral pullout and tried to enlist the support of Shas Rabbi Ovadia Yosef at a nocturnal meeting. Sharon sources were quoted as saying that Netanyahu was stabbing the Prime Minister in the back and that ‘Bibi had better watch his own back’.

Also on Saturday, Netanyahu said he would now accept and implement the disengagement, even though there will be no national referendum as he had wished.

SomeIsraCast viewers have inquired how does Sharon get away with bucking his own party to the extent he does? The Prime Minister’s ace in the hole is that most Israelis trust him more than anyone else to lead the country. Even a poll among Labor party members once selected Sharon above any Labor candidate.

David Essing

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