Four comments for 2006
Only one thing in Israeli politics is certain: Sharon will be the next prime minister.
1. No "strategic adviser," pollster, news commentator or political activist predicted in January 2005 that within a year, Gush Katif would be evacuated without a drop of blood being spilled or a civil war breaking out; that Netanyahu would quit the government; that Sharon would say goodbye to the Likud that he built up with his own two hands and establish a new party that would become the greatest of them all overnight; that Shinui would collapse, leaving high-and-mighty Yosef (Tommy) Lapid battling for his political survival; that Tzachi Hanegbi and Shimon Peres would abandon their parties and sit together in Sharon's new party in harmony and brotherly love; and that the prime minister himself, outwardly a symbol of health and vigor, would suffer a stroke, shrouding the future of the Sharon-era in uncertainty.
The soothsayers of 2006 also stand a good chance of having to eat their hats. Until now, no one has figured out how to predict earthquakes, tsunamis and mega-attacks on the scale of the Twin Towers. In particular, Israeli psychics are stumped by pre-election survey respondents who say they are "undecided." Three months around here are like 30 years in Switzerland. Looming on the horizon are Labor party primaries, Palestinian Authority elections and a reshuffling of the political system. No party will be as large or small as expected, and no one knows what dramas lie ahead.
2. The first campaign slogan to hit the ether says both all and nothing: "Peretz - because the time has come." The time for what? For a mustache? For big hair? For shirts without ties? The message is Peretz the man. Being Amir Peretz. What this slogan heralds, ultimately, is the return of direct elections. This system was scotched in favor of party elections, but now a great longing has been born for someone to focus on, someone who can stand up there at the top and set the tone. Sharon, Peretz, Peres, Bibi, Barak, Feiglin, Landau - the entire cast of Israel's beloved TV satire, "A Wonderful Country" - have returned to direct elections through the back door.
With all the central committees, the primaries and the slimy characters who have slithered in, the country's real leaders have become prisoners. The public, in despair as peace slips away, terror persists, social ills mount, and corruption and violence reign, is hankering to gather around a tribal chieftain. It's just a matter of time before a presidential system is adopted here.
3. It's been a long time since we've seen Shimon Peres so calm, happy and sure of himself as he's been since his daring leap from Labor to Kadima. For years, they poked fun at him and tried to push him out of his seat in the party that he grew up in and aged with. For years, they said he was bad for the party, he was scaring away voters, and he should have been shipped off to an old age home long ago. Even Rabin couldn't stand him. At the beginning of his last term of office, he joked about making Peres his "Minister of Sasporilla." Peres has been kicked around by everyone in politics, big or small. Sharon, no spring chicken himself, is the only one who understood that Peres, as the most internationally acclaimed figure in Israeli politics, was an asset, and invited him to join Kadima. Those in the know in Sharon's camp say the man is worth eight seats.
So there you have it. The bop bag of Israeli politics has suddenly found himself on the threshold of a new career. Shimon and Sharon, like the two old coots in the Muppet Show who laugh at the whole world, have discovered that they speak the same language. First, Peres agreed to support Sharon from the outside. Now, he wants in. Why? Because he has a doctor in the family, and he happens to know that when a party is dependent on one man, and this man's health is on the blink, you can't replace him unless you're a Knesset member. Is that what you call a loser?
4. No party is going to win the predicted number of seats, but one thing is certain: Sharon will be the next prime minister. There are two scenarios for what he will do after the election. Most likely, he will strike while the iron is hot and embark on an accelerated settlement-evacuation program, with or without an accord - the "Ben-Gurionization" of Sharon, some call it. But if terror and missile attacks continue, Sharon the old war horse will strike back. In war as in war, as they say. A person on a strict diet has a very short fuse. All the anger over the food he can't eat will come crashing down on their heads.