By ANSHEL PFEFFER
How will the battle at Amona affect the elections? Actually that's rather a stupid question.
Kassam missiles on Ashkelon, suicide bombers in Tel Aviv and Netanya, Ariel Sharon's two strokes, the poverty report and Hamas winning the Palestinian elections. None of these events has seemed to have any effect on the elections, so why should Amona be any different?
Kadima is still way ahead in the polls, no matter under whose leadership, Amir Peretz is showing no capability to reverse Labor's fortunes and the Likud still seems dazed among the ruins.
The pictures of horses charging young demonstrators and hundreds of wounded policemen and settlers being carried on stretchers might seem like a PR disaster for the government. Kadima's strategists are betting on the opposite.
The short video clip shown at the presentation of Kadima's top 50 candidates on Monday consisted of key scenes from the country's history and ended with a female soldier carrying a young girl out of her house in Gush Katif. This was a foretaste of Kadima's TV campaign next month. The disengagement might be a trauma for many Israelis, but in Kadima they're convinced that none of them are potential voters of theirs anyway.
As for the rest of the electorate, pullbacks, dismantlements and disengagements are definitely in season. And as cynical as it sounds, the violence at Amona might even help Ehud Olmert prove to the voters that he's every bit as tough as Ariel Sharon. Not only is Kadima banking on the popularity of the harsh treatment of the settlers, it's also put its main rivals in a bind.
Labor and Meretz criticized the government at the beginning of the week for going easy with the settlers, following the agreement whereby the disputed Hebron market was temporarily evacuated. That argument will be a bit difficult to maintain after Amona. The Likud, eager to regain voters from the center, can't afford to be seen as siding with stone-throwing youngsters and against the security forces. Binyamin Netanyahu has indeed been strangely silent for the last couple of days. Even Israel Beitenu, Kadima's main competitor for Russian votes, had a problem attacking the government for allowing the police to ruthlessly carry out a court order, after unveiling a law-and-order campaign this week.
The Likud's Uzi Landau and other right-wing politicians accused Olmert of escalating the Amona situation to draw attention away from the failure to predict Hamas's victory. There's an echo here of the accusations against Sharon, for deciding on the Gaza pullback in return for ending the criminal investigations against him. It's also in tune with the Likud's latest campaign slogan: "Netanyahu - Strong against Hamas."
Kadima has a two-pronged anti-campaign already prepared for this. First is the claim that thanks to the international credit gained as a result of disengagement, Israel now has broad diplomatic backing against a Hamas-led Palestinian Authority. Second is the reminder that it was prime minister Netanyahu who released Ahmed Yassin from prison as a result of the crisis following the botched Mossad assassination attempt of Khaled Mashal in Jordan. The prime minister who finally gave the order to eliminate the founder of Hamas was of course the founder of Kadima.
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