Israel, post-Sharon.
January 4, 2006 3:26 PM   Subscribe

Ariel Sharon's out, as of tonight. What happens now in Israel?
posted by matteo to Grab Bag (23 answers total)
Binyamin Netanyahu?
posted by The Jesse Helms at 3:30 PM on January 4, 2006

Iran's a cinder?
posted by nevercalm at 3:34 PM on January 4, 2006

I think it's "Who knows?", from my understanding the next leader will literally come from nowhere, as there's no stand outs. For some reason I have a feeling whoever it is might be more conservative than Sharon.
posted by geoff. at 3:45 PM on January 4, 2006

Huh, I always thought that WWIII would be started by the USSR or China.
posted by snsranch at 3:48 PM on January 4, 2006

With Arafat, Sharon, and Saddam out of the picture, the middle east could become a much more peaceful place than it has recently been. Or radically more violent.
posted by b1tr0t at 4:00 PM on January 4, 2006

Barring a miraculous recovery, there's a week of mourning ahead. And more immediately, celebratory gunfire in Gaza tonight (assuming not everyone's stormed into Egypt). Then phony calls for reconciliation and bipartisanship. But Sharon's late-in-life push to the center will, sadly, dwindle. His new centrist party may be stillborn, and rapid re-polarization may emerge. In the battle between the Israeli Right and Left, Right still holds an edge, and Netanyahu may become ascendant, along with the bunch of wacky settler hold-outs he's been sucking up to lately.

Or Netanyahu, crafty bastard that he is, may jump on Sharon's coattails and tack to the center, now that he doesn't have to outflank Sharon on the Right. But alas, I doubt it.

But I'm an American, so I could totally be wrong. Paging ori, ori you've got a thread to respond to...
posted by Asparagirl at 4:04 PM on January 4, 2006

oh, and thanks Asparagirl. I was impressed that Kadima got 40+ seats in the new polls, corruption scandal notwithstanding.
but then, Kadima is Sharon I guess. and hence, politically dead.
posted by matteo at 4:31 PM on January 4, 2006

[removed a few meta comments, please stay on topic]

Isn't there an obvious successor? (and what's he like?)
posted by mathowie at 5:09 PM on January 4, 2006

Sharon never had a protege or people he was grooming, i don't think. He was a one-man band, and not good at alliances or coalitions.

Netanyahu is probably the most likely next leader, unfortunately.
posted by amberglow at 5:20 PM on January 4, 2006

Agree with Asparagirl and Amberglow -- it's Bibi. I'm writing a longer piece on it at, but we've already put up a short piece. Basically, Kadima was Sharon -- the party has other important folk in politics, but nobody who can run the show. Likud will do much better in March, and this will a) make Bibi the PM and b) cause mondo problems in the West Bank settlements. Netanyahu, when he was PM, was a big supporter and builder of settlements (though they're against Oslo). This is bad.

Of course, having the old guard of the I-P conflict begin to die off may open the door for new and creative thinking on how to get a final settlement. I think even Bibi sees that a 2-state solution is the only tenable solution that can be reached at this point (this was not entirely the case back in the early - mid 1990s when Bibi was PM previously).
posted by zpousman at 6:37 PM on January 4, 2006

mathowie: for the present there is an acting Prime Minister, but elections had already been called. In Israel, the Prime Minister is a directly elected position nowadays, so the main parties Labour and Likud will put forth candidates. Kadima, which was Sharon's centrist coalition, will probably try as well, but without his leadership it's unclear how viable it is. They'll probably split, a lot like the Reform Party here did, and largely divide support among other parties. Likud will be running Netanyahu, who as a former Prime Minister is already credible. Labour has recently suffered an electoral defeat -- just 19 seats in 2003 -- leaving it in a precarious position, although it could easily make that up. The doubtful part of that is that Amir Peretz, the new leader of Labour, and likely PM candidate, is from a splinter party cum trade union and may not have the affection of mainstream Labour voters, and is an unknown in terms of security questions.

It was Peretz's unwillingness to remain in coalition with Sharon which forced the elections.

I would say that a betting man would bet on Netanyahu.
posted by dhartung at 8:50 PM on January 4, 2006

Kadima is/was The Sharon Party. Without him, it's a bunch of moderate ex-Likud and other centrists looking like deer in the headlights.

So: Bibi, and a couple of directions. Less likely: a reach-out to those who'd quit, even though it would be primarily for show. More likely: an even more fragile coalition than last time, with the rump Likud relying on the support of the religious parties, who'll demand typically disproportionate concessions.

Why Bibi? Whenever there's an unforeseen transition, some voters will forgive ideology because of experience. Alas.
posted by holgate at 10:38 PM on January 4, 2006

My money is on Peretz, frankly.

Netanyahu is absolutely loathed by many Israeli voters, even on the right. The way he managed the disengagement from Gaza was crassly opportunistic. Sure, he's done a lot in the last few weeks to purge the Likud of radical elements, but he's identified primarily with American-style privatization and market competition, something which played well in the '90s and doesn't ring so well today. And in their hearts, I think most Israelis believed, as Sharon does, that Israel has no future in the territories. Since Netanyahu built his opposition on rejecting the disengagement, he's identified with a future that Israelis don't want.

My powers of prediction suck, but I wouldn't be surprised to see Shimon Peres make a dramatic show of picking up Sharon's mantle and trying to keep Kadima together. Faced with the prospect of crawling back and sucking up to Bibi or sticking with Kadima, I think enough of the renegades will stick it out. Peretz, who was already nibbling at the Likud's support in the sephardic community, will strengthen his hand. Which means a Labor/Kadima coalition. Peretz's campaign slogan is: "Because the time has come." If he plays this right, that could resonate well in the next months.

In any case, this is a sad and frightening day. The comparisons with Rabin's assassination are apt.

Tangentially, thank you for making this post matteo. And thanks for policing it, matt. What's on the blue is predictably disgraceful. This post reminds me why I come here.
posted by felix betachat at 3:48 AM on January 5, 2006

Looking at mathowie's question, one thing that strikes me is that there seems to be a lack of choice and, barring Peretz, who is by no means established, a lack of new names as well. It's the same old cast, and has been for years (i.e. Sharon/Peres/Netanyahu in various permutations and stand-offs). Is this because of the suddenness of events, and/or because Sharon didn't groom a successor, and/or because Netanyahu seems like a reasonable alternate (and the others don't)? Are there any other names that are on the horizon?
posted by carter at 5:21 AM on January 5, 2006

I now realize I know nothing at all about Israeli politics. Can anybody recommend a good for-dummies article about this?
posted by davar at 6:32 AM on January 5, 2006

Are there any other names that are on the horizon?

Personally, I've long had a soft spot for Tzipi Livni. She was one of the Likudniks who followed Sharon to the center, a pragmatist, and there's a slim chance she could pick up the pieces after he's gone. But her background has always been so domestic-centered, what with having a law degree and working as a minister for various domestic agencies, and doing "soft" politics like women's rights. If she made a push for it, she could garner a lot of support, but I don't think that's her style. And Golda Meir (and Deborah) notwithstanding, Israelis have a macho streak a mile long and just don't seem to consider her in the same light they see a Netanyahu or Peretz (or basically any politician with a dick), even though she's far more Sharon's heir than Netanyahu is.
posted by Asparagirl at 7:51 AM on January 5, 2006

(Wikipedia link for Tzipi Livni, with an unflattering photo. And to soften my implicit charge of sexism in my last post, I should point out that she's only 48, which may color how people see her, too.)
posted by Asparagirl at 7:54 AM on January 5, 2006

Never heard of her - interesting, thanks! Likewise, it seems to me as if Israeli politics is at least as much driven by (macho) personalities as it is by party ideologies at the moment.
posted by carter at 8:24 AM on January 5, 2006

Can anybody recommend a good for-dummies article about this?

Wikipedia isn't too bad at outlining the huge number of parties for what is, after all, a very small country. Essentially, the electoral system pretty much guarantees either shaky partisan coalitions or national-unity governments. Parties are also quite protean: there are regular realignments, especially among the smaller parties.

The international press (esp. in the US) is not good at reporting Israeli politics from an Israeli perspective. If you read the online Jerusalem Post (right) and Ha'aretz (left) you'll also get a sense of the domestic issues at stake.

There's an interesting commentary that predates Sharon's illness, but fills in some of the details on how Peretz may represent an ethnic realignment in Israeli politics, as a representative of the Sephardi working class leading a traditionally Ashkenazi party. The Sephardim tend, as a bloc, to lean more hawkish and 'culturally conservative', but to the left economically.

In Sharon's absence, though, pocketbook issues will probably take a back seat. And it may well end up as a head vs. heart election: between a tough guy whose ideology is regarded as wrong-headed by most Israelis, but has experience in power; and someone with no ministerial experience who has the favoured long-term approach, but may not inspire confidence in his ability to pull it off.

There may well be the belief that a sufficiently-hobbled Bibi ministry would, at least, not do too much damage and provide a chance to reassess the political map. But so much is in the air right now. And Peres is perhaps the wild card.
posted by holgate at 3:41 PM on January 5, 2006

Thanks holgate!
posted by davar at 1:50 AM on January 6, 2006

Speaking with an Israeli friend last night, he made the point that Kadima is a lot more than just Ariel Sharon. It represents a strong turn to the middle in the Israeli political scene and reflects a popular will, on the right and the left, to be done with the occupation. Kadima suffers, obviously, for losing Sharon, but this doesn't necessarily translate into a windfall for Netanyahu.

To that end, a hasty opinion poll conducted last night shows Kadima winning 40 seats with Olmert at the helm, 38 with Livni, and 42 (the same number it was pulling under Sharon) with Peres. 32 seats is the target number to lead a coalition. The poll was conducted less than a day after Sharon's stroke, so it's likely this represents a less than sober slice of the electorate. Still, it bears considering.
posted by felix betachat at 2:38 AM on January 6, 2006

I saw that Ha'aretz poll, and the editor made the point on the BBC that you're likely to see both Labour and Likud try to 'winkle out' Kadima members. But those numbers are surprising, and encouraging.
posted by holgate at 4:14 AM on January 6, 2006

encouraging indeed. but I just saw Ehud Barak on CNN and he made a very good (if not uninterested) point -- ie, people responded like that in the poll as some sort of wishful thinking, kinda hoping against hope that Sharon can miracolously come back anyway, maybe in the future.

what scares me is that 2 months in politics is an eternity, and choosing Kadima in a telephone poll now seems, well, a very tiny hope that this numbers will still mean anything long after Sharon's funeral, at the actual polls, on election day.
posted by matteo at 11:03 AM on January 6, 2006

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