The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Israel's circus politics

I used to follow Israeli politics much more closely a few years ago, but reading Haaretz recently reminded me that there is nothing more exhilarating than following the ups and downs of politics over there. This amusing article (shame about the racist ads, though) is just a small reminder of the high-stakes game being played in Tel Aviv:

There were plenty of comic moments during Shaul Mofaz's press conference in Tel Aviv on Sunday: His entry through a window; his robotic adherence to prepared messages regardless of what he was asked; his exit through that same window.

But the highlight was when he was presented with the letter that he sent over the weekend to some 130,000 Likud members, in which he promised never to leave his "home." That letter, he was told, had been written only five days earlier!

"Ten days," he responded. "There were corrections and proofreading." During those 10 days, Mofaz suddenly discovered that the "Feiglins" had conquered the Likud; that Benjamin Netanyahu and Uzi Landau were pulling it rightward; that the "rebels," who opposed the disengagement, controlled the party. Somehow none of this was known to him three weeks ago, when Ariel Sharon left the Likud and urged him to join him. Only last Saturday night did it suddenly strike him.

His political conduct in recent weeks has been hapless. Someone advised him to attack Sharon at every opportunity. In doing so, he drove away Sharon's supporters in the Likud. And the moment he began prattling to the media, he turned from a serious and professional defense minister into another politician.

But the problem was not just Mofaz; it was also Sharon and his enormous appetite. Three hours before Mofaz telephoned Sharon on Saturday night, one of Sharon's associates said that Kadima would not accept any more new members. "Enough already!" he declared. But that was his opinion. His boss thought otherwise.

Sharon wants to destroy the Likud. To rip it to shreds. Until not even a scrap remains. His resentment against the party that he established knows no bounds.

Mofaz's desertion overturned another stone in the Likud. From now on, it is the party of the "rebels" (other than Silvan Shalom and Michael Eitan), and that is exactly what Sharon wants. To push the Likud into an extremist corner. To return it to the days of Menachem Begin's Herut, which was a marginal party, a laughingstock. And Sharon is moving toward this goal like a bulldozer - without worrying about the environment.
In the region only Lebanese politics come close to this (or would if they got a chance at a little more stability and transparency). With all the talk in Egypt these days being switching to a proportional representation system (at least that's what many of the pundits are advocating, no doubt partly to either isolate the Muslim Brothers or force them to integrate a party or form their own), one wonders whether we'll be seeing this kind of stuff in a decade's time.

I have to wonder, though, why did Mofaz come in through the window?