ישראל נאמן | Lectures, Articles, Tours: Israel | Mideast onTarget | Elliot Chodoff & Yisrael Ne'eman | Likud Referendum 2.5.04

Likud Referendum

02 May 2004

By Yisarel Ne'eman

Today the Likud is holding a referendum on PM Ariel Sharon’s “Disengagement Plan” for the Gaza Strip and northern Samaria in the West Bank. Three weeks ago Sharon met with US President Bush and received American support for:

- The construction of the security fence

- The absorption of large Jewish West Bank settlement blocs into Israel proper in a permanent status agreement with the Palestinians

- The right to battle Palestinian terrorism in the West Bank and Gaza even after a withdrawal

- The denial of Palestinian refugee “right of return” to Israel

For his part Sharon offered to withdraw from Gaza and dismantle settlements and most military outposts. To garner support in his own right wing Likud faction, the PM supported a party referendum and is hoping for a “Yes” vote. According to the last polls taken before today’s vote, the PM and allies will lose by 5 – 10 % as the right wing and settler movement mobilized all their resources to scuttle what they see as a left wing plan to halt Jewish settlement in the entire Land of Israel. The opposition campaign, however is less ideological and more practical. It speaks of any withdrawal as encouraging terrorism and on the emotional level presents the settlers as being uprooted from their homes and becoming refugees in their own homeland.

A solid majority of Israelis support “Disengagement” regardless of whether it passes the Likud referendum or not. Sharon, and at least 40% of the Likud has shifted to the center as evidenced by the January 2003 elections where the party doubled its support to 40 seats in the Knesset. In those elections Sharon made clear his intention of implementing a two-state solution.

Whatever the outcome, the Likud may be on the verge of a split as many see the referendum vote as one of the most fateful decisions in the life of the nation. Sharon is seen by many as presenting a Ben Gurion style pragmatism as opposed to ideological entrenchment. Never before has the Likud been so close to representing the political center. Twenty years ago, such a Likud vote would have been heresy.

The Likud is in deep trouble as the right and center can be expected to shred the party. Whoever wins will leave the other side to consider whether to defect. Centrists may head for Shinui and those on the right for the National Union or National Religious Party.