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Sunday, May 12, 2002

Hawks and Falcons-The Likud Central Committee voted against recognizing any Palestinian state west of the Jordan. Netanyahu's just kicked any nascent peace process in the short-and-curlies. This puts the party to the right of Sharon, its titular leader, and shows that Netanyahu might be in position to stage a take-over of the party. Would this be a good move for Israel? It seems to commit Likud and any government it's a part of to a rather militant footing. If the two viable long-term options are ethnic cleansing and an autonomous state on the West Bank, Likud seems to prefer the former. I was hoping for a short but nasty rooting out of the current PA leadership followed by the development of a moderate Palestinian leadership that had grown so weary of the beating that they would sue for peace. It doesn't look like that's going to happen now. If the Likud is firmly committed to controlling the West Bank and Gaza, this will make a pro-concessions government hard to achieve. If the nationalist right and the Arab left are taken out of the mix, you have about 55-60% of the electorate left to work with, assuming that Likud doesn't pick up a lot of swing voters that have seen that the "peace process" is a misnomer. There doesn't appear to be a stable coalition that can exclude the Arab parties and the nationalist parties. It seems more likely that more hawkish parties will gain ground in any new elections and a center-right coalition would be much more likely than a center-left one. Sharon now seems to have two choices; to veer to the side of the hawk and keep his Likud party happy or to look at some form of peace process and risk a vote of no confidence. You could the ultimate strange bedfellows of a bunch of leftists voting to keep Sharon in power in fear of an even harsher Bibi-led government. Whether the leftists would hold their nose for long enough to vote for Sharon will be interesting, for the peace parties know that they'll lose ground if an election is called now. We're at a point in Israeli politics where the choice is not between hawks and doves but between hawks and falcons. Both are birds of prey, but the falcon’s a bit prettier. Netanyahu gives a better persona to the outside world, as his smoother delivery and near-native grasp of English (he spend a good chunk of his youth in the US) makes him a much better spokesman for Israel than the blunt and heavily-accented Sharon. A Kennedy-Johnson contrast comes to mind in speaking style. Netanyahu was blasted for being too hawkish in his PM stint, but now his time may have come. While it may be is premature to compare Netanyahu to Churchill, I'm reminded of Churchill's ability to stick to his guns and be out of power when the public was wrong and he was right, only to have the public come to its senses later on. This might be Israel's 1939 (no, Sharon's not Neville Chamberlain) and that Israel might rediscover Bibi's talents.

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