Jewish World Review Nov. 7, 2002 / 2 Kislev, 5763

Zev Chafets

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Consumer Reports

Watch for Dubya to
give Arik political hug | After a lifetime of political promiscuity in which he has quarreled with and abandoned every partner he's ever had, Ariel Sharon has finally found true love.

In the arms of President Bush.

"I will not do anything to change our special relationship with the United States," the Israeli prime minister told a Jerusalem press conference.

The "anything" he won't do is get into a fight with Bush. That's the price the right-wing National Union-Yisrael Beiteinu faction demanded for saving Sharon's government. All he had to do was say out loud what everyone already knows - that he opposes a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza - and he would have had enough support to keep his coalition in power. But Sharon wouldn't say it. For Bush's sake.

Bush, for reasons of Mideastern diplomacy, claims to want Palestinian statehood. Sharon, at Bush's urging, has vowed that he, too, is a Palestinian nationalist. Neither means a word of it, but Sharon's not about to blab their secret.even if discretion leads to a premature election.

Actually, two elections.

Sharon's first contest will be in his own Likud Party against Benjamin (Bibi) Netanyahu. The prime minister's biggest selling point is going to be his relationship with Bush. Likud voters, not famous for their sophistication, appreciate the value of friendship with the superstrong.

So Sharon expects public displays of affection from Bush - sweet words, televised hugs, flashy economic gifts - and a whispering campaign: Sure W respects Bibi, but they just don't have that Bush-Sharon chemistry. And chemistry is crucial, especially on the eve of war.

If Sharon gets past Bibi, he'll face Labor in the general election. Israel's founding party hit an iceberg in 1977 when Shimon Peres lost to Menachem Begin, and it has been sinking ever since. Former Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, Haifa Mayor Amram Mitzna and the dovish Haim Ramon are competing to be the captain who goes down with the ship.

Internal Labor polls show Mitzna, a sad-eyed ex-general with no national political experience, in the lead. But Labor Party primaries usually are decided by machine vote, which gives Ben-Eliezer - a hack's hack now in distant third - some hope. It was his faith in the system that caused him to bring down the government in the first place.

It is widely assumed that no Labor candidates can beat Sharon or Netanyahu. Labor is the party of accommodation, and after more than two years of Palestinian terrorism, Israeli voters are not in an accommodating mood. The best Labor can do is hitch a ride in the next coalition. This suits Sharon fine. He is a great believer in governments of national unity. Unfortunately, he loathes Mitzna for personal reasons and Ramon for political ones.

Ben-Eliezer is Sharon's ideal partner - hawkish, dense and happy as a second fiddle. So while Bush campaigns for Sharon in the Likud primary, Sharon will be working hard for Ben-Eliezer in Labor's by attacking his former defense minister as dovish and devilishly clever. Since Labor primary voters aren't more discerning than their Likud counterparts, there is an outside chance this will work.

Elections are set for the end of January. A lot will happen between now and then. But all things being equal, voters may decide they don't want to break up the affair between Ariel and George. After all, everybody loves a lover.

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JWR contributor Zev Chafets is a columnist for The New York Daily News. Comment by clicking here.

10/31/02: Sharpton the patriot
10/22/02: Rabin, gone but not missed
10/17/02: Israelis bracing for US' punch at Iraq
10/14/02: Geriatric war resisters
09/27/02: Al Gore: The Lost Boy of American politics
09/05/02: The intifadeh's over, and the Israelis won
08/29/02: At the world summit, just anger & hypocrisy
08/21/02: No time for weak knees on Iraq
08/16/02: A pro-Arab pol may get the beating she deserves
08/13/02: Fight it out now
08/02/02: Memo to The Council on Foreign Relations: U.S. values won't sell in Arab world
07/31/02: Israel's nutty neighbors

© 2002, NY Daily News