ישראל נאמן | Lectures, Articles, Tours: Israel | Mideast onTarget | Elliot Chodoff & Yisrael Ne'eman | Shinui, A Growing Move to the Center

Shinui, A Growing Move to the Center

19 December 2002

By Yisrael Ne’eman

Labor party Chairman Amram Mitzna announced he will not sit with the ultra-orthodox Shas faction in his next government, nor will he join a National Unity Government with Ariel Sharon as prime minister.  He refused to rule out sitting with members of the Arab parties, the most moderate of which is the Communists (Hadash) who today represent the Palestinian cause much more than anything Jewish or even a two state solution.  In Haifa they were part of his coalition. 

The Likud who ten days ago was expected to poll 40 seats or more, has lost 5 in public opinion surveys due to suspected fraud, vote buying and kick backs in their primaries last week.  According to the Hebrew daily Ha’aretz virtually all have shifted over to Shinui giving them a possible 13 seats if elections were held today.

This morning a three way debate was held between Likud MK Yuval Shteinitz, Labor MK Eitan Kabal and Lapid on Channel One.  The first two exchanged accusations and then Lapid was asked for his opinion.  He stated clearly he is looking for a National Unity Government without the Haredim, the extreme right wing parties (who advocate more settlements and a full scale war against the Palestinians) nor any Arab lists.  He declares he represents the middle class and wants rule returned to their hands without special interest groups.  Over the past two weeks when scandal ripped the two large parties the Shinui election campaign emphasized the middle class stake in the upcoming vote.

His NUG would include the Likud, Labor and Shinui with a projected 65 – 70 man coalition.  Here he is in agreement with Sharon, Labor’s #2 Benyamin Ben Eliezer and large segments of both parties.  Shinui is not only gaining popularity due to the Likud’s misfortunes but as a result of the stalemate with the Palestinians and disgust with the allocation of state funds.  Lapid is concentrating on domestic issues since even Mitzna has admitted that should he implement a one sided major Israeli withdrawal from Palestinian areas terror attacks should still be expected.  As for Sharon, he is perfectly aware there is no end in sight to the violence despite his peace proposals.  But everyone knows domestic priorities can be changed, although until now this has not been done.  This is Lapid’s promise.

Finally people want unity, another Lapid promise and not an unreasonable one.  The Left has no chance of forming a government.  Labor and Meretz combined will not poll more than 35 seats.  Two could even be added for the labor union party One People.  Counting a maximum of 12 seats for Arab lists brings the number at best to 49 (and some of these are so anti-Israel that neither Labor nor Meretz would sit with them).

As for the far Right (including the National Religious Party) a maximum 15 mandates can be taken while the Haredi Shas and United Torah Judaism will receive more than 12.  Sharon could form a coalition here but would alienate the center, a good portion of the Likud and especially his own supporters.  The government would be unwieldy and extremist in its budget demands while uncompromising on the Palestinian issue.

People often ask why Sharon is so popular despite the Israeli quagmire on every front.  Not only did he grab as much of the center as possible, but he does not hide the truth, does not speak of immediate miracles and demands a NUG.  His erstwhile partner Ben Eliezer can be expected to play the same card when the elections are over, this time inside the Labor party.

Lapid has made unity and centrism into his advantage, he does not represent a right or left wing party shifting to the center, but a centrist party building a power base.  His aim is to get enough seats to force a NUG and the elimination of special interest groups in the halls of power.

It may be the first time in Israeli political history that a fed up middle class will have its chance to do just that.