ישראל נאמן | Lectures, Articles, Tours: Israel | Mideast onTarget | Elliot Chodoff & Yisrael Ne'eman | Political Comeback Week

Political Comeback Week

22 June 2003

By Yisrael Ne’eman

Between terrorist attacks, Road Map interpretations and US Sec. Of State Colin Powell’s visit to Israel ‘Political Comeback Week’ in Israel was barely noticed.  It began with Finance Minister Benyamin Netanyahu’s visit to the US where he explained the Israel 2003 budget and his economic planning to American officials, including Federal Reserve Chief Alan Greenspan.  They appeared fairly impressed.  He was warmly received when discussing Israel’s uphill and fairly successful battle against terrorism and then walked into the lion’s den when challenging President Bush’s opposition to Israel’s continued construction of the security/separation fence. 

In Aqaba Bush asked Sharon to stop work on the barrier.  The Israeli PM did not acquiesce but realized work could not continue without US approval.  The Americans are under pressure from the Arabs for two reasons.  The fence cuts through western sectors of Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) and not along the 1967 border and can be seen as a new de facto border should the Road Map fail (a safe bet).  Around 180,000 Jews living just east of the old border will enjoy enhanced security as will the vast majority of Israelis. 

The fence is seen as a step towards ‘annexation’ and more security means less bombings, reducing internal pressures on the Sharon government to make concessions to the Palestinians.  Endurance is the issue and many Israelis (according to the public opinion polls) are beginning to break after close to three years of terrorism, preferring to return almost all territories and withdraw to the old border.

From his right wing position Netanyahu shifted one more step to the center, making the fence construction a major issue and asking for outright American support.  Although never to be said out loud the Americans (and Bush) know an occasional bus bombing will keep Israeli public opinion ripe for US leverage.  Increase security and the public will dig in its heels, especially after watching numerous TV reports showing West Bank Jews being forcibly removed from “illegal” outposts.  Neither the public nor the people’s army will have the stomach for large scale violent evacuations from major towns involving tens of thousands refusing to leave homes they lived in for years, unless of course the terror attacks continue.  Cynical but true.

By demanding the security barrier fence, Netanyahu abandoned the hard line right, placing himself squarely in line to inherit the prime minister’s post after Sharon.  Foreign Minister Sylvan Shalom is taking a similar line in dealing with the Europeans this week, putting himself in line with public opinion and patching up previous differences with Netanyahu while beginning his comeback.

Shimon Peres who will be 80 this summer captured the Labor party chairmanship (temporarily for a year) on Thursday.  His job is to rehabilitate the party.  Sharon’s office announced there is no interest in a coalition with Labor, an interesting remark since the issue was not raised and everyone knows he supports Sharon’s efforts.  Making a comeback from the opposition benches will be almost impossible. 

Three political careers rebounded this week as Road Map issues are being played for domestic consumption.