|JANUARY 1999||PUBLISHED BY AMERICANS FOR A SAFE ISRAEL|
The emergence of a serious nationalist opposition party, led by Knesset Members Benny Begin and Michael Kleiner, means that there is at least hope for meaningful change in Israel.
It took two years of broken promises and previously-unimaginable concessions for a signficant number of those who supported Benjamin Netanyahu in 1996 to finally realize that the nationalist camp, as presently constituted, will not be able to protect Israel against the dangers it faces. Netanyahu is too susceptible to internal and external pressures. He is surrounded by too many self-seeking politicians and too few principled nationalists. Too many of his cabinet ministers are ready to overlook PLO violations. Too many of his trusted advisers urge him to make concessions for the sake of poll ratings.
The Begin-Kleiner party may change all that. Those who know Benny Begin and Michael Kleiner know that they are as straight-laced as they come. Begin was the only minister who resigned from Netanyahu's cabinet because of the Hebron withdrawal. What a refreshing change, in an era of politicians--even "rightwing" politicians--who will do literally anything to hold on to their cabinet seats. Kleiner, for his part, has repeatedly defied the dovish leader of his Gesher Party, David Levy, in order to stand firm as head of the "Land of Israel" bloc in the Knesset. The Begin-Kleiner party will stand for clear-cut principles. Hopefully the other, smaller factions in the religious and nationalist camps will see the wisdom of uniting behind the one force that can really make a difference.
Nobody realistically expects Begin to be elected prime minister. But it is realistic to project that Likud, Labor, and the party led by Amnon Lipkin-Shahak will split the "centrist" vote, leaving the Begin-Kleiner party as the major alternative on the right. It is entirely possible that their party will win 10 or more seats in the Knesset. That would make it the third-largest political party in Israel--a powerful force to be reckoned with.
Those who fear that the Begin candidacy will split the nationalist vote and return Labor to power are mistaken. Here is the most likely scenario: Netanyahu, Begin, Shahak and Barak will all fall short of the 50% mark in the first round of voting for prime minister. The two largest vote-getters will be Netanyahu and either Barak or Shahak.
At that that point, the danger, as well as the hope, will be clear. The danger is a Barak or Shahak victory over Netanyahu in the second-round runoff. The hope is that a Netanyahu victory will be accomplished with the aid of a strong, ideologically committed party to his right that will have enough seats in the Knesset to prevent him from making further concessions to either Washington or Arafat.
The Begin-Kleiner party can serve as the major partner in a Netanyahu-led coalition, thus serving as a powerful force that will be looking over his shoulder, strengthening him against concessions.
The nationalist camp is obviously not yet in a position to have its candidate elected prime minister. But it is in an excellent position to ensure that it will play a major role in influencing the prime minister's future policies. Will there be a Palestinian state? Will Jewish settlements grow or dry up? Will Arab terrorists have free reign? These are among the life-and-death questions that the results of the May 17 election will determine.
Herbert Zweibon is chairman of Americans For a Safe Israel.
IN THIS ISSUE:
Israeli Elections, 1999 ...3
"Gangsters, Criminals, Sadists" ...6
The Unmentioned Emblem ...7
Moral Equivalence, Clinton-Style ...8
With Friends Like These... ...10
January 1999 - 1 - Outpost