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Netanyahu Challenges Sharon

14 August 2005

By Yisrael Ne'eman

Last week Finance Minister Benyamin “Bibi” Netanyahu resigned from the government claiming he could not serve alongside those who favored the Disengagement. Despite the fact of a proven voting record of support for such a policy over the past year Bibi decided that last week was the perfect time to leave, just as implementation was to begin. PM Ariel Sharon accused him of escaping his responsibilities, as did many others. Netanyahu is giving no heed to his critics as he sees the golden opportunity to grab the Likud leadership from the PM.

One would think the two have radically different perspectives on making peace with the Palestinians. Netanyahu’s resignation was more political than anything else. Lest one ever forget, both Sharon and Bibi negotiated the Wye Agreement in 1998 whereby another 14% of the West Bank was to be relinquished to the Palestinians (it was never implemented).

Public opinion surveys show the generally hard line Likud membership supporting Netanyahu over Sharon by 53% to 38%. And of course, many from the right/religious wing flocked to Bibi’s door to congratulate him and get organized to scuttle the Disengagement, even if at the last moment. But Netanyahu is not that far to the Right. He told his supporters the Disengagement will succeed and to prove his ardent stand against the withdrawal he took the whole family on vacation to the US last Thursday. He speaks of demanding concessions from the Palestinians and ignores Sharon’s understandings with the US (such as no Palestinian refugee return) in lieu of the Gaza and northern Samaria withdrawals. Instead he demands an agreement with the Palestinians, which he cannot obtain. His right wing rhetoric only proves his opposition to Sharon, his actions do not sanctify him as a settlement diehard.

Had he been ideologically honest Bibi would have abandoned the government last year when the Disengagement was first approved. Furthermore he would have organized his forces to guarantee Sharon’s ouster from the Likud leadership. But he prefers to let Sharon do the dirty work so he can take credit for not having served in a government tainted with Disengagement. He describes himself as “light orange” and not of the dark variety and even admits he would leave Gaza, but not under the conditions accepted by Sharon (Yediot Ahronot, July 12, 2005). He accuses the PM of going soft on security, as if someone could accuse Sharon of not understanding the subject.

Bibi’s moves are completely political and born of spite. He is in favor of a two-state solution and separation from the Palestinians but would negotiate directly with the PA to force concessions and apparently not take American guarantees in place of Palestinian rejections. It is an illusion to expect the Palestinians to give anything to Israel in return for Gaza. As far as they are concerned Israel can sink in that quagmire forever. But Bibi wants to be PM and fast. So he will play to the hard line Right in the Likud and work to unseat Sharon.

If he ever attains office, he will pursue the same Sharon policies, but with a different bent. Although some may think otherwise, ideologically Bibi is not really at odds with Sharon, but rather opposes him at the last minute before the withdrawal with the hope of unseating the PM as the Likud leader before the next elections. Nothing like a bit of “baseless hatred” to remind us of Tisha B’Av.