(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
The upcoming elections are clearly crucial for anyone who opposes another unilateral withdrawal. Yet not any vote for a rightist party is an equally effective vote against withdrawal. In fact, anyone serious about preventing the pullout has only one realistic option: Likud.
There are several reasons for this. First, the only surefire way to prevent the withdrawal is if the Likud rather than Kadima forms the next government, and that requires the Likud to win enough seats to be a viable candidate. It need not be the largest party; President Moshe Katsav consults all the factions before choosing someone to form the government, and if Binyamin Netanyahu had more overall support than Ehud Olmert, Katsav would probably choose him even if Kadima were slightly larger. But for this to happen, the parties must be fairly close in size - say 25 seats for Likud and 30 for Kadima. If Kadima has 35 seats to Likud's 15, Katsav will almost have to choose Kadima, both in deference to the voters' preference and because a 15-seat party is simply too small to form a viable coalition.
Second, even if Kadima forms the government, some of its likely coalition partners, such as Shas, might still be persuaded to oppose the pullout itself. That, however, is possible only if a strong opposition actively mobilizes votes and exerts pressure. If the opposition had only 30 votes against the pullout, Shas would certainly not quit the coalition. But it might if the opposition had 50 votes and its 11 seats were decisive.
A 25-seat Likud can obviously spearhead a stronger opposition than a 15-seat Likud. In this case, however, a 15-seat Likud would probably not be an opposition at all - because if the Likud does poorly in the elections, Netanyahu may well be ousted by Silvan Shalom.
As long as Netanyahu heads the Likud, it will remain in opposition: Aside from the personal enmity between Olmert and Netanyahu, they have no common policy ground. Not only has Netanyahu denounced Olmert's pullout plan so strongly that he cannot back down without destroying his last shred of political credibility, but his economic policies are also antithetical to those Kadima will have to adopt to satisfy its likely senior coalition partner, Labor.
Shalom, in contrast, supported the disengagement, and has already indicated that he would back another pullout in exchange for a suitable cabinet post. Thus if Shalom ousts Netanyahu, part of the Likud (several committed pullout opponents would probably refuse) will be in the coalition within days.
Therefore, for the opposition to have any chance of blocking the withdrawal, the Likud must win enough seats to keep Netanyahu at its helm.
HERE, PURISTS will declare that they would rather vote for a party guaranteed to oppose the withdrawal - even if its efforts are doomed to fail - than cast a vote that offers a chance of blocking the pullout but also risks supporting it. Yet in fact, every "rightist" party is equally risky:
â€¢ United Torah Judaism. For a mere NIS 290 million, UTJ not only supported the disengagement; it single-handedly saved it by keeping Ariel Sharon's government from collapsing over the 2005 budget. Anyone who thinks it would not sell the West Bank equally cheaply is hallucinating.
â€¢ Shas. Shas's primary concern has always been economics, and it pposed the disengagement only after Sharon efused to meet its conomic price. Olmert, however, almost certainly wil meet it, ncause Shas's economic policies are very similar to those of Labor - nd Olmert does not have a coalition without abor. Any economic olicy that satisfies Amir Peretz will not only ake Shas comfortable oining the government, but will almost force it o join: Otherwise, eretz will get the "credit" for these measures, nd Shas will lose voters.
Moreover, because Olmert is more likely to back Shas's economic policies than Netanyahu, Shas's economic arch enemy, the party may well tell Katsav that it prefers Olmert a priori.
â€¢ National Union-National Religious Party. Were the National Union running alone, this would be a "safe" anti-pullout vote. However, a vote for NU is also a vote for the NRP, which could split off and join a Kadima government after the elections. There are two reasons for thinking this possible. One is NRP chairman Zevulun Orlev's addiction to the cabinet table, as demonstrated by his refusal to quit Sharon's government over the disengagement. Additionally, Orlev has long argued that the NRP should shift its focus to poverty, and his economic views match those of Labor and Shas. Thus Kadima's economic policies will give him an excuse for joining.
â€¢ Israel Beiteinu. Avigdor Lieberman's party seems unlikely to join a Kadima government, albeit mainly because Labor and Meretz both refuse to sit with him. However, his Knesset slate contains at least two leftists - former Labor MK Sofa Landver and Yisrael Hasson, who reportedly signed Yossi Beilin's Geneva Initiative - who might well support the pullout even from opposition.
â€¢ A small right-wing party, or not voting at all. This is indeed a "safe" vote - but for withdrawal, not against it. Every vote that the Right wastes, whether by not voting or by voting for a party that fails to enter the Knesset, gives Kadima a larger proportion of the votes that count, thereby making the withdrawal more likely.
In short, the Likud is no riskier than any other party, and offers a better chance of preventing the pullout.
Purists, of course, also have another argument: the Likud must be punished for the disengagement. That, however, is patently ridiculous: Since most pullout supporters have quit Likud for Kadima, "punishing the Likud" actually means punishing the very MKs who opposed the withdrawal!
Moreover, it would retroactively validate the disengagement. The Likud had 40 seats in the last Knesset. If, following the split with Kadima, it cannot win at least 20, then most Likud voters evidently did support the disengagement, and Sharon was justified in dismissing the plan's defeat in a party referendum as being engineered by people who "don't vote Likud anyway."
Thus for anyone who seriously wants to prevent the next withdrawal, the Likud, for all its flaws, is the right choice - both morally and practically.