Ariel Sharon is well on the way to being reelected as Israel's
For one thing, Mr. Sharon seems to have vanquished his most
formidable internal critic, former Prime Minister Binyamin
Netanyahu. Polls and political analysts predict that Mr. Sharon will
defeat Mr. Netanyahu in a party election Thursday for the leadership
of Israel's Likud bloc.
A telegenic politician once considered a serious threat to
Sharon, Netanyahu is watching his campaign for party leader fizzle.
Likud members, says Daniel Ben Simon, a political writer for the
Ha'aretz newspaper, are being forced to choose between "the most
patriotic figure" in the party - Sharon - and "the most charismatic
one." Patriotism appears to be winning. "It's amazing how the magic
of Netanyahu has dwindled," Mr. Ben Simon says.
The pollsters and analysts seem just as certain that Likud will
emerge as the dominant party in a national election set for Jan. 28,
meaning that Sharon will have the opportunity to form Israel's next
What happens after that is a good deal murkier. Sharon has
presided over a broad coalition, including Likud's longtime rival,
the Labor Party, for most of his premiership. Last week, Labor
elected a new leader - Amram Mitzna, a former general and the mayor
of Haifa - who says he is not inclined to join a government led by
For the first time since Sharon came to power in March 2001, says
Hebrew University political scientist Reuven Hazan, "a leading
Israeli politician is looking the Israeli people in the eye and
saying 'I'm giving you a credible alternative.' "
Mitzna is promising to withdraw Israeli settlers and soldiers
from the Gaza Strip should he become prime minister, although the
conventional political wisdom says Labor will win far fewer seats in
parliament than Likud. Mitzna is also promising to resume peace
negotiations with the Palestinians in spite of continuing violence.
Sharon has long insisted that violence must cease before talks can
If negotiations fail, Mitzna says, he will unilaterally
"disengage" Israel from the Palestinians, although he dodges
questions on just how he would do so.
"I bring a new hope," Mitzna told foreign reporters Monday,
describing his approach. "And I hope this ... will drive also the
Palestinians to take steps, to do something, to stop terrorism."
Mitzna easily defeated Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, who served as
defense minister under Sharon, in the Labor leadership election last
week. The result was clear evidence that Labor stalwarts are tired
of being part of a "unity" government, no matter how grave the
crises facing the country. …