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(photo credit: )
Menahem Begin sent a bunch of Labor-voting kibbutznik pilots to bomb the Iraqi Osirak nuclear reactor and bring back victory for the Likud. So went the saying in the 1981 elections and Shimon Peres was indeed quick to blame Begin that the timing of the attack was politically motivated. There are no shortage of conspiracy theorists willing to believe that the US and Britain timed the removal of their monitors in the Jericho Jail yesterday to boost Kadima's campaign but asides from Palestinian spokesmen and a few voices on the far right and left fringes, they weren't to be heard yesterday.
But despite that it seems that the considerations going into the Jericho operation were purely operational, timing for Olmert couldn't have been more perfect. After the round of weekend newspaper interviews that portrayed him at his most leftward position yet, determined to pull out of most of the west bank and decide Israel's permanent borders, Olmert tilted this week rightwards. It began with his announcement that despite US opposition, the Police headquarters would be built in the E1 corridor between Jerusalem and Maale Adumim, next on the schedule was the visit to Ariel including the promise that the town and its surroundings would remain a part of Israel and on Wednesday he's meeting a delegation of settlers from Gush Etzion who will receive similar assurances. The Jericho operation has apparently been weeks, if not months, in the planning, but what a wonderful coincidence for Olmert, the perfect crescendo for his right-wing week. How can the Likud attack him now?
The best MK Yuval Steinitz could come up with was that "the right hand attacks while the left retreats," even the National Union MKs were left speechless by the capture of the killers of their late leader Rehavam Zeevi. Some of them said quietly that it was "too little, too late" but even they realized that they sounded like spoilsports. Neither could the "Zionist" left criticize, aside from a lame complaint by Yossi Beilin that Israel should have tried to negotiate first with Mahmoud Abbas. Amir Peretz congratulated the government and sounded rather pathetic when he said, "Labor under my leadership is a full partner in the combat against terror." Many of his colleagues in Labor would paraphrase that as the hope to be a "full partner" in the Olmert coalition.
So is Olmert a schizophrenic, one week relinquishing ninety percent of the West Bank and the next promising to annex Ariel and sending the IDF into Jericho. He's merely attempting an impossible balancing act, keeping together Kadima's illogical electoral base just long enough until the elections. The thirty-something percent of the voters that according to the polls are planning an improbable mix of centrist-left Shinui voters, left-lite Laborites, a small number of real left Meretzniks and of course Likudniks fed up with their old party and loyal to Arik Sharon's memory. Last week, Olmert was busy making sure that Kadima's left-wing supporters wouldn't leave after the flurry of corruption allegations against Olmert and Sharon Junior. They were reminded that if they are interested in pullback from at least part of the settlements, Kadima is their only ticket. This week he went made sure that his right flank is also secured.
With 13 days to go until the elections, Olmert will be walking a thinner and thinner line, but his successful military operation as acting prime minister gives him at least 24 hours breathing space.