Border Control / Having Feiglin to Kick Around

If Moshe Feiglin did not exist, Benjamin Netanyahu would have to invent him. Every headline that talks of the all-out war against the man who represents the right fringe of the party brings the Likud leader closer to the point marking the center. And that point is the ultimate goal of the Likud chairman's election campaign. In order to remove Kadima, headed by Tzipi Livni, and what remains of the Labor Party, headed by Ehud Barak, from the government, Netanyahu needs more than simply Dan Meridor who zig-zagged to the center and back. For that purpose, he had to find someone of Feigin's ilk, who is perceived even among right-wingers as an extremist, if not downright delusional, and on whom an attack does not automatically cast suspicion back on the attacker as having left-wing tendencies.

A modest achievement by Feiglin in the Likud primary, which will not have too great an influence on the internal balance of power in the party leadership, will make it possible for Netanyahu to continue to treating him like a punching bag all the way to the polling booth on February 10.

Netanyahu's efforts to place himself in the center of the political map have gone beyond the borders of the state. He is making attempts to mitigate the fears that his relations with President-elect Barack Obama will be an updated version of the murky relations he had with Bill Clinton, or that the prime minister of Israel will once again be an unwanted guest in the office of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

With these concerns in mind, Netanyahu is holding a series of "therapeutic" meetings with foreign statesmen and diplomats, and is sending via their offices calming messages to the states of the West. The leading candidate in the race for the country's leadership is proposing to his interlocutors that they not become overly excited by election slogans. And he is hinting, among other things, at the idea of an "economic peace."

Netanyahu is promising to continue with the peace process both on the Palestinian and the Syrian tracks. He points to the fact that, during his previous term of office as prime minister (1996-1999), Israel signed the Hebron agreement and that he himself spent a few days in the company of Yasser Arafat, at the Wye Plantation summit convened by Bill Clinton at the end of 1998.

Similar ideas are being whispered into the ears of close associates, including (relatively) friendly journalists. An experienced politico like Netanyahu understands that a secret that is shared with more than a half dozen people very soon becomes general knowledge, not only in Israel but around the world. These lines prove that he was not mistaken. On the other hand, this morning it is still difficult to know whether Netanyahu indeed really means to move toward the center, or whether his words of moderation are mere tranquilizers whose effect will wear off when the election campaign draws to an end. The place earned by Feiglin and a handful of his supporters on the Knesset list will merely show whether the investment in the struggle against Feiglin was too effective.

Rich man, poor man

On paper, Meretz leader Haim "Jumas" Oron has a rich man's problems. Almost daily, the names of new candidates who wish to strengthen the ranks of the revitalized left-wing party spring up. In addition to these, Oron has in his pocket a list of good women and men who are waiting for him to call. If they are offered a fixed and realistic position on the Meretz list (the optimists wager that the party will earn 10 seats, the skeptics say seven or eight), they will agree to run with the party in the election to the 18th Knesset.

Next Sunday, the members of the Meretz conference will draw up their list. No big surprises are expected. Three members of the outgoing Knesset - Oron, Zahava Gal-On and Avshalom Vilan - are expected to remain in the Knesset and to welcome back their veteran colleagues Ilan Ghilon and Mussi Raz in the two seats that have been vacated by Yossi Beilin and Ran Cohen. Tzvia Greenfield, who took up Beilin's seat when he resigned last month and has hardly managed to warm it up, is fighting to hold on to her place.

A few days later, an organizing committee on behalf of the new group is due to get together in order to consider and decide on the order of its candidates. The committee consists of professors Mordechai Kremnitzer, Avner de Shalit, and Aviad Kleinberg, as well as Gedalia Gal, a former Knesset member from Labor, Janet Aviad, from the leadership of Peace Now, and former journalist Niva Lanir. Among the names they will have before them are attorneys Tzaly Reshef and Gilad Sher, businessman Yossi Kucik, historian Avner Ben-Zaken, and journalists Merav Michaeli and Anat Saragusti.

So far, so good. The problems will begin when Oron asks members of the Meretz conference to share the first five or six places with the new group. The veterans argue that the reinforcements must enlarge the modest cake rather than cutting slices for themselves from it. To this end, the Meretz members are planning to oppose parachuting new members into the first five places, and will insist that places be reserved only from the sixth name on the list onward. Apparently, this will be the first test of the strength of the kibbutznik chairman who is known for his affable nature.

Simultaneously, Oron is being criticized by his colleagues because the heads of the new group have left off their list veteran peace activists such as Col. (Res.) Shaul Arieli and former Foreign Ministry director general Dr. Alon Liel. Arieli was head of Ehud Barak's peace administration and one of the leaders of the Geneva Initiative. Over the past few years, he has accompanied thousands of visitors on tours along the security barrier, and has been recognized by the Supreme Court as a friend of the court with regard to petitions against the route of the security barrier.

Liel initiated the Swiss-Syrian channel and set up the forum for advancing peace with Damascus. The "problem" with both of them is that they already became members of Meretz in the past and so have to compete like any other party member for a place on the list in the framework of the conference.

Not quite so dangerous

On December 3, this column published an exchange of letters between Dr. Yaakov Arad, who is active in Physicians for Human Rights, and the defense minister's bureau, regarding critically ill people who live in Gaza. Elia Eshel, assistant to the head of Ehud Barak's staff, refuted the criticism of the defense establishment, which had refused for long months to allow five sick people to leave the Gaza Strip in order to get emergency medical treatment, some of it for life-threatening conditions. In his letter to Arad, Eshel wrote, inter alia, "One must praise all of those who activate you, the doctors, as well as all those 'Israel lovers' throughout the world, from Amnesty and other 'peace' organizations."

The assistant added: "The command of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories is aware of all the appeals without exception! All of them receive treatment in a fitting manner. Whenever it is right and necessary and fitting to approve their entry into Israel, this is done in direct cooperation with the professional bodies."

The minister's media adviser lent his support to Eshel and expressed the hope that all the ministerial bureaus would behave in a similar manner.

Two days ago, the offices of Physicians for Human Rights received a short note from another government office. Sigal Malcha, who is in charge of letters from the public in the Prime Minister's Office, reported that "following an examination by the relevant bodies," it was decided to permit the five ill people to cross into Israel. Two of them will receive treatment in Israeli hospitals and the remainder in Jordan or Egypt.