Natan Sharansky has been called a visionary, a thinker and the man who has the ear of US President George W. Bush, but who would have thought that he would be called a power broker in Israeli politics?
Sharansky, who is not an MK, was eulogized politically when he quit his cabinet post in May. He lost some of his international prestige the following month when Prime Minister Ariel Sharon indirectly prevented him from seeking the chairmanship of the Jewish Agency and World Zionist Organization.
But thanks to a political deal he made when his Yisrael Ba'aliya party merged with the Likud, Sharansky is now a virtual lock to make the next Knesset. In a serious poll of 1,230 Likud central committee members, Sharansky even finished among the Likud's top 10 candidates for the next Knesset.
The top 10 finishers were Agriculture Minister Yisrael Katz, Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, rebel MK Moshe Kahlon, former prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Health Minister Dan Naveh, coalition chairman Gideon Saar, rebel MK Yuli Edelstein, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, Sharansky and rebel leader Uzi Landau.
The poll was conducted by the Likud central committee Internet portal Likudnik. The Web site distributed to each of the Likud's 3,050 central committee members a code that gave them three weeks to vote for the party's MKs as they intend to in the next Knesset race.
Ahead of the vote, the power brokers in the central committee made political deals as they do before Knesset elections. Sharansky and Edelstein were able to use the 120 members they added to the committee in the merger to make deals that landed them top slots.
"The poll proved that Sharansky is one of the major power brokers in the party, because he holds about 120 cast-iron votes," said Likudnik publisher Phillip Hubert. "His 120 central committee members worked together like a well-oiled machine. When he makes a deal, he has 120 people behind him and only a few people can say that."
Sharansky is currently a distinguished fellow at the Shalem Center and is writing a follow-up book to his best-seller The Case for Democracy, which will defend nation-states. He responded to the results by saying: "What we learn from this is that focusing on ideas and principles rather than currying favor pays off in the Likud, and for those who say there is no place for morals and ethics in Israeli politics, here is proof that in fact there is."
Edelstein said the poll should silence Sharansky's naysayers. He admitted that he "cooperated with a lot of people" - a nice way of saying he made many political deals ahead of the poll.
"We proved that our group is consolidated and with the right work, myself and Sharansky can get top slots on the list," Edelstein said. "I might not finish seventh, but Sharansky and I will definitely get realistic slots. We proved that both of us can run and win."
The poll also found that Vice Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's support in the Likud has risen, while Minister-without-Portfolio Tzahi Hanegbi's has fallen.
According to the poll, many Likud MKs will not make the next Knesset, including Transportation Minister Meir Sheetrit, deputy ministers Ze'ev Boim, Ya'acov Edri and Gila Gamliel and MKs Michael Eitan and Omri Sharon.