Sharon: It ain’t over
till the fat man sings
Ariel Sharon’s bribery scandal has so deteriorated his political position that members of his own Likud party are openly anticipating his demise.
According to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency’s As Scandals Swirl around Sharon, Pundits Predict He Won’t Last a Year, last week, Israeli television broacast tapes of Ariel Sharon and his advisors openly discussing ways to skirt (or violate, depending on your point of view) Israeli election finance regulations:
The tapes released by David Spector, a political consultant who worked for Sharon for about a year before and after the 1999 campaign, show Sharon’s close advisers unabashedly contemplating illegal campaign funding.
In one tape, Uri Shani, then the Likud’s director general, tells Sharon’s son Omri that he could transfer Likud funds to the campaign coffers in a way that would be untraceable.
In a taped telephone conversation with Spector, Ariel Sharon asks about U.S. and European donations to what is believed to be an election fund, suggesting that he followed the wider illegal donation process in great detail.
The tapes also suggest Sharon lied to the state comptroller in April 2001, when he said he had no idea how campaign funds were raised and that his two sons had handled all money matters.
As damaging to Sharon is his involvement with shady real estate speculator David Appel:
The state prosecution is expected to file bribery charges this week against David Appel, a wealthy building contractor and Likud activist with close ties to Sharon.
One of the charges relates to a Greek island that Appel wanted to buy in the late 1990s for tourist development. He paid Sharon’s son Gilad hundreds of thousands of dollars for his “advice” on the project, with a promise of $3 million more if the deal went through — money that police suspect was a kickback to Sharon senior, then the foreign minister, for his help in advancing the project with Greek authorities.
Gilad Sharon, at least, was not unaware of the risk he was taking. An earlier Spector tape shows him worrying that the affair could land him in jail.
If Appel stands trial for giving bribes, the issue of prosecuting those who took them will arise.
That means that the Sharon boys, pere et fils may all end up in pinstripes, a lovely prospect for those of us who for decades have hated Sharon and everything he stands for.
These scandals are taking a heavy toll on Sharon’s popularity and credibiity, which were quite high until recently:
According to a mid-January poll in Israel’s daily Yediot Achronot, 67 percent of Israelis believe Sharon knew about illegal campaign fund raising; only 17 percent accept his claim that he didn’t. According to the poll, most Israelis — 53 percent — still think Sharon is doing a good job as prime minister, but that’s down dramatically from his 69 percent approval rating last August. Some 46 percent now say Sharon should resign, up from 33 percent when the scandals broke a year ago.
In the Likud, the prevailing assumption is that they will have to pick a new prime minister sometime in 2004. There are five major candidates: Netanyahu, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, Industry and Trade Minister Ehud Olmert, Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom and Education Minister Limor Livnat.
There are important caveats we must recognize before we start dancing on Ariel Sharon’s political grave:
1. the two prime ministers previous to Sharon were each accused of serious crimes which were never prosecuted
2. many times before in Sharon’s career his power and influence have been all but extinguished by scandal or wrongdoing, but each time he has bounced back to assume even more power
3. even if Sharon falls, the Likud pols lined up to take his place would maintain his current bankrupt policies toward peace with the Palestinians
Sharon is a jungle fighter and it will take a great deal to make this mountain of a man fall.