Politics & Policy

Sharon’s Shake-Up

Labor gets on board.

On the eve of Holocaust Heroes’ and Martyrs’ Remembrance Day 2004, a man who called for the extermination of Jews–a Hitler wannabe–Abd Al-Aziz Rantisi of Hamas, was violently eliminated by emissaries of the Jewish state. The timing could not have been more fitting.

At the same time, the European nations nearly universally condemned the surgical strike on the head of an organization they themselves designate as terrorist. Then again, that’s Europe. But not so America. The U.S. State Department may hem and haw, but there it ends. Why? Well, Abd Al-Aziz Rantisi can answer that one himself.

In an interview on April 9, 2004, the Hamas leader declared, “We say to the Muslim people of Iraq, we are with you in you’re struggle against the American terror and destruction, we are with you in your war in defense of Islam. We say to the fighter and commander Mokutada A-Sadr: Hamas stands by your side and blesses your Jihad [holy war] and wishes you with the help of God, that you will win and be victorious.”

Outright praise for Prime Minister Sharon’s second successful strike at the head of Hamas came from many in Israel, including, surprisingly, Labor party head Shimon Peres. Even as right-wing Minister Uzi Landau released a statement saying that such a strike would have never been approved with Labor in the coalition, Knesset Member Peres released his own statement expressing his support for the targeted killing of Rantisi.

But how could Minister Landau have known? After the previous Hamas leader Ahmed Yassin was eliminated by Israeli missiles on March 22–less than a month ago–Peres said, “Had I been a member of the government, I would have voted against this. I think it was a mistake.” That was then, this is now.

What has changed that killing the new bloody-handed Hamas leader is praiseworthy, but killing the old one was “a mistake”?

The new factor is the April 14 “Bush Letter,” that piece of paper wherein the president of the United States more or less agrees to go along with the short-term plans of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon for a unilateral withdrawal of the Jewish presence from Gaza and from limited portions of Samaria, in exchange for other territory and certain security measures. The whole package is billed as “disengagement” from the Arab population of Judea, Samaria, and Gaza. Critics call it retreat in the face of terrorism–and that is certainly the way it is seen from the streets of Gaza. Sharon’s current stepped-up offensive against the Gazan branch of Hamas may be an attempt to disabuse the terrorists–and perhaps his own opposition–of that point of view.

Politically armed with the Bush letter and with two top-tier Hamas notches in his belt, Sharon succeeded this week in getting “disengagement” skeptics Finance Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Education Minister Limor Livnat, and Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom to support his history-making plans. With those influential Likud leaders in his pocket, Sharon believes, he can carry the Likud-party referendum, scheduled for May 2, on his plan.

The catch is, if the plan is approved and presented to the government, where it now enjoys majority support, the right-wing coalition parties will likely quit the coalition.

That’s where Shimon Peres and his Labor party come in. Should the right wing step out, the left wing may step in to rescue the ostensibly “right-wing” Ariel Sharon. Hence, the upcoming Likud vote is likely both a referendum on “disengagement” and on forming a coalition with Labor. For many in the Likud, a coalition with Labor is even worse than unilateral withdrawal from Gaza. That is why the first message of the internal Likud campaign against the prime minister’s plan is: “You Voted In Favor? You Got Peres.”

It is not inconceivable that the extent of Peres’s public support for targeted strikes is directly related to how near he is to joining a Likud-led coalition. But it may also be that his statement of support was intended to disarm the Likud campaign against “disengagement.” Labor, it so happens, offered to provide political support for Sharon’s plan–and why not? Unilateral withdrawal was their party platform in the last elections. It was also the platform that was rejected by voters in a landslide win for the Right. But that was then, this is now.

Ariel Sharon was once known as the “father of the settlements,” a pioneer in counterterrorism, and a founder of the right-wing Likud party. With “disengagement,” he is proposing the destruction of the settlements he built, rewarding the terrorists he fought, and tearing the right wing apart from the inside.

If the latest developments in Israel were presented as a screenplay for a political thriller, it would be rejected. Too unbelievable.

Nissan Ratzlav-Katz is opinion editor of www.IsraelNationalNews.com.

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