settlement freeze protest 248.88 AP.
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Elected leaders of local authorities in Judea and Samaria (West Bank mayors call their own freeze," December 2) are calling on those of their constituents who are Likud members to "freeze" (whatever that means) their membership in Israel's governing party while Binyamin Netanyahu's building freeze continues. By calling for some kind of boycott of the Likud, they are displaying breathtakingly poor political judgment and doing their own communities a signal disservice. They have hit upon the one idea that, more than anything else, will make it likely that Netanyahu buckles under American pressure in 10 months and extends the freeze indefinitely.
Like any political leader, Netanyahu cannot govern in splendid isolation. To stay in power, he has to command the allegiance of a coalition that enjoys the confidence of a majority of the country. From his perspective, he's done very well. He has sold his freeze policy to Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman as well as to alleged hawks from his own party, notably Bennie Begin and Moshe Ya'alon. It's the acquiescence of these so-called hawks, who might have opposed the freeze, that gives the freeze policy critical political legitimacy.
Of the 11 members of the security cabinet who voted for the freeze, five are Likud MKs: Gideon Sa'ar, Begin, Ya'alon, Yuval Steinitz and Dan Meridor. There is no reason to doubt that in voting for the freeze these men honestly tried to serve Israel's national interests as they perceive them. But these men are in the Knesset and the cabinet because the Likud rank and file voted for them in the Likud primaries (the Likud is the only party on the so-called right that chooses its MKs in open primaries). Sa'ar was the high scorer in the primaries, a position he will want to keep in the future. Ya'alon and Steinitz came in near the bottom of the Likud's "top 10" MKs, those with a claim to a prominent cabinet seat. Meridor barely made it into the Knesset; if he had gained 3,000 fewer primary votes, he'd still be practicing law.
Ten months from now, these politicians (along with Likud MK Silvan Shalom, who was abroad when the vote on the freeze took place) are the ones Netanyahu will have to carry with him if he wants to extend the freeze. All of them have a lot to lose in the next Likud primaries. If any of them suffers a significant decline in his ranking on the Likud list for the Knesset, his political career will be damaged severely. Of course, some of them can try their luck in Kadima, but the ranks in Kadima are pretty crowded, too.
ONCE THEY come to their senses, the mayors of communities in Judea and Samaria will be spending a lot of time lobbying these ministers, hoping to convince them to end the freeze in September 2010. What's hizzoner going to say? Is he going to spin a tale of woe to the minister about how his community is suffering and young couples have to move away? He'll get lots of sympathy, but also lots of explanations: Obama, you know, and Iran, and international pressure and all that.
But what if every mayor of a town or regional council in Judea and Samaria were to bounce into every Likud minister's office with a big smile on his face and say, "You know, we've signed up a thousand new Likud members since November 2009! And people are joining the Likud in our town at the rate of a 50 a week! Isn't it wonderful that the Likud is so popular out our way?" He'll be met with silence, while the minister does sums in his head. And the silence will be more expressive than a hundred expressions of sympathy.
So if I were the mayor of a town or village in Judea and Samaria, I wouldn't spend my time bellyaching to the press or threatening a counter-freeze. I'd hold town meetings and explain to my constituents the political facts of life. Then I'd go door to door among all the residents of my town, and I'd send all the members of my city council - whatever their party affiliation - to do the same, each with a sheaf of blank Likud membership forms in hand. After all, over the next 10 months the planning and construction committees of local councils in Judea and Samaria aren't going to be terribly busy. Their members will have lots of time on their hands.
And next time I visited a Likud member of the security cabinet, I'd walk into his office with the political equivalent of a loaded gun in my pocket rather than a water pistol.
The writer is a member of Likud. He also heads the Israel Policy Center.