Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Likud lemmings

What's going on in the Likud at the moment is quite remarkable. How often do you see a ruling party trying to oust a popular prime minister?
The coverage is almost unanimously portraying this as Sharon fighting for his political future. The truth is, of course, that the story is not about the end of Sharon, but about the potential end of the Likud as we know it. The fact is that the party's only real asset is Sharon. He will be voted in as the next PM no matter which party he heads. The Likud, however, headed by Netanyahu, won't win anything. He -- and the Likud he represents and that supports him -- is much further to the right than the majority of the Israeli electorate. A large proportion of the Likud's votes in the previous election came from former lefties who could no longer support Labour but were willing to cast their ballot for Sharon. They won't do the same for Netanyahu, whose strength is his appeal to the traditional Likud voter and to the stereotypical Likud central committee memeber -- those who feel discriminated against and disenfranchised. Middle Israel, which the Likud needs to keep its electoral advantage, don't sympathise to say the least, and still love to hate Netanyahu.
The question, then, is not whether Sharon is going to disappear, or how he is going to survive, but whether the Likud is about to consign itself, completely needlessly, to political oblivion, making itself a party of the working-class again rather than a party of power. As things look likely to pan out now, for the first time in decades, a brand new party -- neither Labor nor Likud, but a mixture of refugees from both, plus a few Shinui members, headed by Sharon -- would take power, changing the political map perhaps forever.
The Likud, with a few breaks, has basically been in power for decades and has no serious rival in Labour -- which is why its members may feel invincible now, and think they can afford to boot out Sharon. However, stranger realignments of the political map have occured; there is no question that the Likud needs Sharon much more than Sharon needs the Likud.

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