Bibi's Yes, But' Formula

In a closed conversation with Likud veterans, Benjamin Netanyahu revealed how he thwarts policy moves by pretending to give his support.

Well before the "Feiglins" and the Yesha people infiltrated the Likud Central Committee and painted it in the colors of the extreme right, there was a hard core there, ideological and fanatic about the values of the Herut movement. The members of this group are for the most part Irgun people, for whom nothing has changed since the British Mandate. In the movement jargon they are called "founders of the Likud," or "the founders."

At meetings of the central committee they do not go wild and run riot. Their advanced age prevents this. Many years ago they founded an ideological circle called "Tagar" (Challenge), which every Friday holds regular meetings that are closed to the media. Last Friday MK Benjamin Netanyahu appeared there. At the end of the 1980s the members of this circle adopted the young Netanyahu, who had completed a successful career at the United Nations in New York, and helped him get elected to the Knesset. Later, when he ran for the chairmanship of the Likud, they supported him enthusiastically. Afterwards, when Netanyahu gave Hebron back to the Palestinians and signed the Wye Agreement, the relations soured but still, despite the residues, Netanyahu feels comfortable there, free to say what he really thinks.

On Friday, when some of the members of the circle asked him in an accusatory tone why he had voted both in the government and in the Knesset in favor of the disengagement, several times (before he resigned as finance minister), Netanyahu responded angrily: "Lies!" Mili Yakovsky, the author of the Internet site "I'm a Likudnik," the Likud's online newspaper, who was at the meeting, describes the surprise of the members of the circle upon hearing this.

Netanyahu explained to him that indeed he had voted "in favor" three times, but for what? Once in favor of "checks," once in favor of "preparations" and once in favor of Justice Minister Tzipi Livni's compromise. But he never supported the actual disengagement, the actual expulsion.

And then, to the raised eyebrows of the skeptical Likud oldsters, Netanyahu told the members of the circle about the trick that helps him thwart policy moves, while pretending to support them. He calls this trick: "Yes, but conditionally." In the political world, explained Netanyahu, it is possible to say "no" in various ways. One method is to say "yes, but conditionally," and then to set conditions the other side will never be able to fulfill. This is the reciprocity that Netanyahu so loves to mention.

I opposed the disengagement plan and the road map from the very first moment, said Netanyahu, and I expressed my opposition in a formula of "yes, but" (in the vote in the government on the road map, Netanyahu abstained, not before he insisted on entering 14 reservations about the formulation of the decision - Y.V.). Netanyahu, according to journalist Yakovsky, told the members of the circle how he succeeded in torpedoing the implementation of the Oslo agreement which he had inherited from the Rabin-Peres government, in exactly this way: by setting conditions that did not allow the other side to fulfill them.

The members of the circle understood they could rely on Netanyahu to see to it that in his second term as prime minister - if there is one - things will continue to be run by the "yes, but" method. With a wink. Israbluff, as in the famous skit by the comedy trio Hagashash Hahiver. Upon reading these things, several questions arise: Who is the real Netanyahu - the one who says he too would have exited Gaza and that he too sees no point in remaining in Jenin? Or the one who says that as far as he is concerned, there will never be an agreement because even when he says "yes" he will mean "no?" In other words: When Bibi (Netanyahu) says yes, what does he mean?

Win, lose, win, lose

The campaign to depose Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, by means of the coming vote in the Likud Central Committee on the date of the primaries, is a very elaborate and expensive campaign. Someone, some people, aren't sparing any expense to persuade central committee members of the importance of the matter. In only the past two days, three letters arrived at the homes of the 3,050 members of the central committee. One of them is a neat and colorful brochure that describes in apocalyptic terms the scenes of the day after the disengagement: Qassams, terror and a continued unilateral withdrawal from West Bank territories.

In the second, there is four-page prospectus, in red and black, which deals with the indictment that will be filed against Sharon because of the crimes of the disengagement, in which there is the question, "Is everything because of the corruption?" and in the third there is a letter from Ze'ev Jabotinsky the grandson, a supporter of Netanyahu, who spoke at that press conference. In his letter, the national grandson explains to the members of the central committee why they must not vote for anyone who refuses to commit himself not to resign from the movement if he loses.

Incidentally, so far no counter-letter from the Sharon camp has been delivered to the members' homes. People could well conclude from this that Sharon is not bothering to appeal to the hearts of the central committee members before the crucial vote. And perhaps this is just a problem of funding. Sharon's opponents never lack for money. The Yesha Council and other rightist bodies, which are behind the campaign to produce these leaflets and brochures, are swimming in dollars.

The assessments in the top echelons of the Likud as to the outcome of the vote in the central committee this week are like a roller coaster - alternately soaring and plunging. Until Sharon's speech at the UN the assessment was that Netanyahu would lose in the vote and the date of the primaries would not be moved up. Yesterday, after the media ruled that Sharon's speech was a farewell speech to the Likud, the pendulum swung: Suddenly there are those who believe Netanyahu has a pretty good chance after all.

One senior Likud person tried over the weekend to persuade Netanyahu and the Likud rebels to agree to the compromise proposed by Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, Minister without portfolio Tzachi Hanegbi and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and to suggest to the central committee February, 2006 as the date for the primaries (instead of the current proposal, which talks about two months from the date of the vote - the end of November of this year).

Yesterday Netanyahu's people informed the mediator that they insist on the original formulation - that is, they believe they are going to win. And also this: A source close to Prime Minister Sharon admitted this weekend that "possibly we reached our peak too soon." All this of course is true as of yesterday. The polling stations at the Likud will close only in week's time. More precisely, next Monday, at 10 P.M.

The survey joke

Anyone who phones the home of a Likud Central Committee member these days between 5 P.M. and 9 P.M. will have to wait for quite a while because the line will be busy. The Likud Central Committee has become the most surveyed body in the country since the smell of elections began to waft through the air.

Dozens of Knesset members, ministers and new candidates for the Knesset are homing in, by means of public opinion poll companies, on the (approximately) 3,050 central committee members, in an almost desperate attempt to understand who they will vote for and whose name they will mark on the ballot on the crucial day when the Likud list for the 17th Knesset is determined. The data from some of these surveys make their way to the media and cause near riots among the target audience.

After every such report there are those who soar to the heights of euphoria and those who sink into the depths of grief and depression. Past experience teaches that it is very difficult to sample the Likud Central Committee accurately. The respondents, most of them slick political operators who have ramified interests, past accounts and affiliations with one group or another, do not tell the truth, or at best, not the whole truth.

Many of them prefer not to respond: whether they are fed up with the inundation of phone calls or whether they find it uncomfortable to reveal their personal preferences (these data, after all, come into the hands of the politician who commissioned the survey). Sometimes, those who do respond mostly belong to one camp, so that the survey gets painted a uniform and not necessarily accurate color. These phenomena create significant differences between one survey and another and prevent the surveys from reflecting the reality.

Here are some interesting examples that have been taken from four surveys that were conducted in the Likud Central Committee during the period of about six weeks, from mid-July to the end of August of this year: a survey by the mass circulation daily Yedioth Ahronoth, a poll conducted among 600 central committee members by the "I Am a Likudnik" Internet site and two surveys commissioned by two of the senior Likud people, one of which was conducted by Rafi Smith of the Smith Institute.

Education Minister Limor Livnat, for example: In the Yedioth survey she appears in 25th place, the last place on the list reserved for an incumbent MK. That is, she is barely in the Knesset. In the "Likudnik" survey, she soars to 12th place, which is also no cause for rejoicing (in the real elections two and a half years ago she won fourth place). In the survey for top Likud person A, she is in 18th place and in Rafi Smith's survey for top Likud person B, she is in seventh place.

Tzipi Livni, who is very much identified with Prime Minister Sharon, appears in 17th place in the Yedioth survey. At the "Likudnik" site she is in 10th place. On top Likud person A's list she tumbles to 23rd place - teetering on the edge of in and out - and on Rafi Smith's list for top Likud person B she is in the respectable ninth place.

Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who is also in the Sharon camp, appears in 22nd place in the Yedioth survey, a very dangerous place. At "Likudnik," he is out of the danger zone at 17th place. In the Smith survey he climbs to 15th place, and in the survey for the Likud luminary he is back in 12th place. (Lest there be any doubt: The three senior people who commissioned the surveys are not Livnat, Livni and Olmert).

What does this say about the respondents, the members of the sovereign body of the ruling party? That within about a week they change their minds about a given candidate from one extreme to the other? Or that everything is one big joke in the eyes of the members, and this is their way to torment the pollsters, and through them the Jewish people? Next week, on Monday, in a vote that will last 12 hours, they will determine to a large extent what the political map in the State of Israel will look like during the coming decade.