A ’political earthquake’ after the cease-fire
Likud Party chairman Benjamin Netanyahu spent hours yesterday working on his speech as leader of the opposition, to be delivered today after PM Ehud Olmert addresses the Knesset. Netanyahu spoke on the telephone with Likud MKs and close advisors, most of whom proposed he reserve his criticism and stick to a statesmanlike line, which he has done since the start of the war and proved to be in his favor.
Netanyahu took pains not to be interviewed at the end of last week so as not to attack the cease-fire agreement or to appear in the eyes of the public as undermining the government once again. The criticism was left to the other MKs.
When he addresses the Knesset today, he is expected to be critical for the first time, but to speak very much to the point. But this will not last long. He has identified a chance to improve his position – as has Yisrael Beitenu chair Avigdor Lieberman. In the early days of the war, both had expressed readiness to join a national unity government, but today their lack of involvement has boosted their strength.
On the other hand, Olmert and Defense (War) Minister Amir Peretz will be facing a difficult political and public battle for survival. A call for a commission of inquiry can be expected, and there will probably be mass demonstrations and demands for the resignation of the two of them after the war. They will face aggressive opposition also from inside their parties.
A taste of what is to come in Kadima was provided yesterday when Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz abstained during the cabinet vote on the cease-fire. He is likely to play a central role in trying to take over the party leadership.
In Labor, the rebels (or as he prefers to call them, “the generals and admirals”) will be waiting for Peretz. They will challenge his leadership and crucify him for abandoning social issues. Today’s extraordinary Knesset session, on the day the cease-fire is expected to go into effect, could be the start of a new period in Israeli politics, characterized by many unknown quantities: Will Olmert and Peretz be able to make come-backs? Will Kadima succeed in building itself up or survive at its present size? Will Ehud Barak try again to win the Labor leadership?
Olmert is expected now to try and broaden the basis of his coalition by getting members of United Torah Judaism to join and by inviting Lieberman to be a partner. But the latter are now much less inclined to join a teetering coalition. Over the last few days, the public and political consensus that accompanied the war has started to crack, the political arena is starting to warm up and is expected to reach boiling point as public protests begin to spread. Even cabinet ministers will say off the record that a “political earthquake” can be expected.
“There will be such widespread public protests that we could even be dragged into new elections,” one minister commented. “Clearly things will not remain as they were. At the beginning of the war, it seemed that Olmert and Peretz had a chance to turn into leaders, but they wasted all the public support. In another few weeks, a million people will ask: What was this all about? Why did they lose their homes? Thousands of reservists will ask the same questions. To say nothing of the bereaved families.”
Peretz will have to reinvent himself. He will face difficulties pushing through the cuts in the 2007 budget to fund the war. He is almost isolated in his own faction and when he comes to its meeting today, he knows he will face more vociferous opposition than he did last week.
Ironically, Olmert and Peretz, despite their mutual suspicions, are now dependent on each other more than ever for their political survival.