Anal­y­sis: The bat­tle be­gins now

The Jewish Chronicle - - NEWS - BY AN­SHEL PF­EF­FER

IT WOULD have been a scene unimag­in­able in most democ­ra­cies. The Prime Min­is­ter makes a ma­jor speech on an in­ter­na­tional stage, while back home, two of his se­nior cabi­net min­is­ters are on television ridi­cul­ing the whole per­for­mance. “Dreams,” says Shas leader Eli Yishai, re­fer­ring to the launch of ne­go­ti­a­tions on a com­pre­hen­sive so­lu­tion to the Is­rael-Pales­tine con­flict. “Pa­thetic,” is the term Yis­rael Beit­enu chair­man, Avig­dor Lieber­man, uses for the idea that this would be by 2008. Ehud Olmert can­not sack them. To­gether, they rep­re­sent over 30 per cent of his coali­tion and, with­out them, he would head for highly per­ilous early elec­tions.

The an­o­dyne An­napo­lis dec­la­ra­tion re­flects Mr Olmert’s predica­ment. Any ref­er­ence to fi­nal borders, set­tle­ments or Jerusalem would send his part­ners pack­ing. He could re­place Shas and Yis­rael Beit­enu with the small, left­wing Meretz party, and op­er­ate with a coali­tion of ex­actly half of the Knes­set. But that would put him at the mercy of any sin­gle MK, an in­tol­er­a­ble prospect. So on Sun­day, when he re­ports to the cabi­net, around the ta­ble will be at least six min­is­ters in­tent on derail­ing those plans.

Mr Olmert had a con­stant re­minder of his trou­bles right be­side him in An­napo­lis. Wait­ing for him as he stepped down from the podium was Defence Min­is­ter Ehud Barak, who only five months ago com­mit­ted him­self to bring­ing down Mr Olmert af­ter the Wino­grad Com­mis­sion re­port, deal­ing with the Le­banon War, was de­liv­ered. Small won­der that Mr Barak got just a per­func­tory hand­shake, fol­low­ing which Mr Olmert fell into Tony Blair’s out­stretched arms.

But bring­ing Mr Barak to An­napo­lis was a ma­jor coup, to­gether with ap­point­ing For­eign Min­is­ter Tzipi Livni, who in May called for his res­ig­na­tion.

Now that the diplo­matic process ap­pears back on track, nei­ther of them will be ea­ger to in­cur Wash­ing­ton’s wrath by pre­cip­i­tat­ing a lead­er­ship cri­sis. Mr Barak will have to back down, while Shas and Yis­rael Beit­enu are not go­ing to re­lin­quish power so quickly.

Mr Olmert’s strat­egy now is to string out the ne­go­ti­a­tions with the Pales­tini­ans un­til the in­evitable break with his right-wing part­ners and then try to sur­vive with a mi­nor­ity, ul­ti­mately fac­ing elec­tions in the hope that a peace plan will sway enough of the elec­torate in his favour.

The bat­tle for the hearts of minds of the Is­raelis has al­ready be­gun. Mr Olmert is still dis­tinctly un­pop­u­lar, while the right wing is try­ing to mo­ti­vate an ap­a­thetic pub­lic. They be­lieve they have found a ral­ly­ing point in the par­ti­tion of Jerusalem, which is cer­tain to be a com­po­nent of any fi­nal agree­ment. Polls show three-quar­ters of Is­raelis are op­posed to changes in the cap­i­tal’s sta­tus. An­shel Pf­ef­fer is a JC con­trib­u­tor and the Jewish World correspondent of Ha’aretz

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