April 06, 2006

Is Likud Licked?

In the early morning of September 12th 2005, the last Israeli soldier to leave the Gaza strip closed the Kissufim gate firmly behind him. Whilst that marked Israel’s disengagement from a settlement enterprise originally created by Ariel Sharon, last Tuesday night saw Israel disengaging from another of Sharon’s creations: the party of Likud. Behind that gate in Gaza lay total devastation, everything razed down to the last shul. Had Sharon still been at the wheel of Kadima’s election bulldozer, it is doubtful much more would have been left of the Likud. But Ehud Olmert was not in the same HGV league and quickly slipped from the January forecast of 44 Knesset seats to just 29 in the final count. Along the way he took a detour through the settlement of Amona leaving more broken bones than buildings in a show of brute force that many voters felt should have been directed at Hamas instead of his own people.

As the dust settled the morning after the election, it became clear that the much vaunted mandate for “further unilateral withdrawals” had never materialised. But still, Kadima’s people boasted that they could command a withdrawal majority ‘even without the 10 Arab mandates’. What a stunning observation: that we no longer need to depend on Arabs to drive us out of our land. We are old enough and smart enough to do it all by ourselves.

So where does this leave Likud, now ranking joint third with Shas at 12 seats in the seventeenth Knesset? Much depends on the makeup of the new ruling coalition and the willingness of the right wing nationalist parties to similarly coalesce and put the territorial integrity of Eretz Yisrael above issues of party and person.

From the day of Sharon’s first party referendum on disengagement, the Likud has been pulled like an elastic band as far to the left as it could stand. After Sharon jumped ship, Netanyahu tried to claim the center ground fearing that too close an association with the settlers would lose him votes. In the end all that failed and his election bid was flattened by the settlers he had forsaken for a longer spell at the cabinet table and the underclass he had impoverished as finance minister. The proof is clear to see in the victors of this election. Yisrael Beiteinu’s Avigdor Lieberman and the National Union’s Benny Elon were the first to walk out of Sharon’s government over his disengagement plans. And the Gil pensioners and Shas parties have benefited from the protest votes of the poor.

Likud will survive only by snapping back to its original platform of Revisionist Zionism, true to the founding principles of Jabotisky and Begin. That does not mean hanging on to land for its own sake. After all, it was Menachem Begin who gave up more acreage in the Sinai than Olmert ever will in the West Bank. Uzi Landau, leader of Likud’s rebels summed it up thus: A man may consent to the amputation of a limb to save his life. But in making that decision, he asserts it is his limb. We may consent to ceding territory for a genuine peace with a stable and democratic neighbour, but let’s never forget that it was always our land.

[This piece first appeared in London Jewish News]

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