The Likud primary was held on Tuesday and Binyamin Netanyahu walked away with 73% of the vote; opponents Moshe Feiglin and Danny Danon (chairman of World Likud and a newcomer to the race) received 23% and 3% respectively.
Feiglin — who’s been pumping to achieve control of Likud — considers this latest figure a sort of victory for his position. My own take is that, while Feiglin represents certain nationalist principles that I respect, he makes statements that are unrealistic (and seem just foolish) and, with his emphasis on religion, has not a snowball’s chance in hell of winning a national election in this nation that has a secular majority. To place him in control of Likud would be to ensure a win by Labor (most likely) or Kadima.
There are those who believe that Feiglin’s increasing strength within the party will pull Netanyahu to the right. But others (among them Aaron Lerner of IMRA) believe that Netanyahu will react by moving left in an attempt to disassociate himself from Feiglin in the minds of the voters. Certainly Netanyahu is making every attempt now (and he plays tough) to diminish Feiglin influence within the party.
Is Netanyahu true to the principles of Likud , and can he be counted upon to maintain a nationalist position? There is no guarantee of any of this. He understands the issues, of this I am certain. But he is capable (has a history) of caving under pressure and is distrusted in many circles. But this is who we have right now: unless something radical changes, our best bet to take down Kadima/Labor in the next election. The composition of his coalition would be key to keeping him honest. I deeply regret that the right wing has not gotten its act together to mount a significant challenge in an election — but they may yet play a role as coalition partners. I note here that MK Aryeh Eldad, a man of integrity with nationalist principles, is on the verge of moving out of Moledet and heading a new party that is in process of forming.
And what of the elections? Now that he’s won the primary, Netanyahu is calling upon Barak to fulfill his commitment to bring the Olmert government down (after having a chance to serve as defense minister, that is). Barak associates are saying that he won’t act until the final Winograd Report — which will be highly critical of Olmert — comes out. But Olmert is a wily politician — as slick as they come. The report was due out this fall, already a postponement from this summer. Olmert is petitioning for the right to come back to the Winograd Committee to re-testify. This is a stalling tactic that may delay the release of the report by some months.
On Tuesday I attended a press conference here in Jerusalem with 17 Democratic members of Congress brought in a delegation by AIPAC. It was not a reassuring experience.
Congressman Steny Hoyer, speaking for the group , explained that they felt there was great cause for optimism. The delegation had just returned from meetings in Ramallah and was impressed that there was now leadership in the PA opposed to terrorism, willing to communicate that opposition to the people and to vigorously act against it. It had been Arafat who was the stumbling block, you see. Surely they were talking about a different PA from the one I know.
In questions I, at least, secured from Hoyer the acknowledgement that words from the PA will have to be verified in terms of action: I’ll be watching for that verification.
Keith Ellison, the first Muslim ever elected to Congress, was asked by one journalist how he, as a Muslim, sees the tensions in the Middle East. Well, replied Ellison, he wouldn’t make too much of the Sunni-Shia differences. The bottom line is that everyone wants a future for their children, the opportunity to live in a safe community, and retirement benefits for their seniors. If we can get all groups to agree on this he explained, we "don’t have to sweat the other stuff." Really. He said this.
I came away astounded by what absolute babes in the woods these Congresspersons are, without a clue to what’s going on here. That hopeful naiveté, unfortunately, can do us harm.
I list here the Congresspersons who were present and their districts. I encourage those of you who live in one of these districts to communicate with your Congressperson on the issues. Steny Hoyer (MD-15th); Jason Altmire (PA-4th); Shelley Berkly (NV-1st); Steve Cohen (TN-9th); Joe Crowly (NY-7th); Keith Ellison (MN-5th); Gabrielle Giffords (AZ-8th); Gene Green (TX-29th); Phil Hare (IL-17th); Paul Hodes (NH-2nd); Nick Lampson (TX-22nd); Jerry McNerney (CA-11th); Tim Mahoney (FL-16th); Patrick Murphy (PA-8th): Albio Sires (NJ-13th); John Tanner (TN-8th); John Yarmouth (KY-3rd).
The stance of this group makes the position of Rudolph Giuliani, Republican presidential candidate, all the more cause for celebration. Writing in the scholarly journal Foreign Affairs, Giuliani says:
"Too much emphasis has been placed on brokering negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians — negotiations that bring up the same issues again and again. It is not in the interest of the United States, at a time when it is being threatened by Islamist terrorists, to assist the creation of another state that will support terrorism…
"Palestinian statehood will have to be earned through sustained good governance, a clear commitment to fighting terrorism, and a willingness to live in peace with Israel."
Well, here we have the inevitable: In a press conference in Ramallah yesterday (with the Japanese foreign minister), PA president Abbas called on Hamas to "return to national unity."
"The split that happened as a result of Hamas’s coup is temporary and will be removed," he said. "The Palestinian people are opposed to this separation because we want a united and independent Palestinian state."
Hamas, of course, greeted these words warmly and has invited Abbas to Gaza for talks.
Apparently in a gesture of "good will," PA security forces (Fatah) yesterday released nine Hamas members who had been arrested last month on suspicion of trying to establish an armed Hamas group in Judea and Samaria.
An underground tunnel leading from northern Gaza towards Israel was discovered this week; not yet completed, it had been dug to 700 meters of the border with Israel. Its entrance was hidden by a greenhouse but security forces secured intelligence that exposed its existence. The plan of Palestinian terrorists was to complete it beneath an Israeli site and then pack it with bombs that would be detonated under that site; terrorists may also have been intending to use it to get operatives inside of Israel for attack.
There seems little doubt that while this one was discovered many others exist.
As bad as Hamas and other terrorist groups in Gaza are — and as much as we will have to contend militarily with forces in Gaza — they do not represent our greatest threat: Iran does. Indirectly, Iran has its finger in all that Hezbollah and Hamas do, but I am referring here to a direct threat. And the news on that front is unsettling.
Yahya Rahim Safavi, Commander-in-Chief of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, has just delivered a speech in which he detailed the capabilities of his weaponry: They have, he said, missiles that can travel 1,500 miles, which means they can reach Israel. This is not a surprise; he was apparently referring to the Shahab-3 missile. But he added that they had missiles capable of penetrating the armor
of the Israeli Merkava tank.
Safavi also directed threats towards the US , with regard to Iran’s capability of taking out all US ships in the area. The US is on the verge of declaring the Revolutionary Guard a terrorist group.
The UN Security Council mandate for international forces under UNIFIL to operate inside of Lebanon is up for renewal, as a year has passed since the force was put into place under Resolution 1701. Israel is requesting that the mandate be expanded so that UNIFIL might be more "proactive" — with UNIFIL’s field of operations enlarged to include towns and cities, and permission given for the members of the international force to shoot at Hezbollah before they’ve been fired upon. Indications from European nations is that this request will be turned down. Perish the thought that the international community should take a real role in blocking Hezbollah.
Meanwhile, Hezbollah is actively buying from Christian and Druze owners — reportedly at highly inflated prices — land north of the Litani River. This region, marked by rugged terrain, is perfect for Hezbollah’s guerilla-type combat and is situated beyond the range of UNIFIL operations. There they are actively involved in fortifying positions for fighters and stockpiling weapons.
This is not an action being taken for defensive purposes, you can be sure. Hezbollah possesses Katyusha rockets that can reach Israel even from north of the Litani.
The Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Subcommittee on the West Bank has voted to ask Olmert and Barak to authorize Jewish residence in Mitzpe Shalhevet, the market place in Hevron from which two families were just evicted. "We asked the government to give this building back to the community," said MK Otniel Schneller, who chairs the subcommittee and is a member of Kadima.
I find myself returning again and again to this subject because it has such underlying significance for the future of the state and there is so much misrepresentation about what is transpiring. Not only were 3,000 forces (three thousand!) sent to evict these two families and their supporters, they deliberately destroyed the homes following eviction, homes on which the Jewish community of Hevron had spent many thousands doing renovations.
There have been charges made that the residents of Hevron see themselves as not part of Israel, but what I see is the opposite: that the officials of Israel would read out the residents of Hevron. This response now from the Knesset subcommittee is thus most encouraging.