Ariel Sharon has won a vote in the Likud Central Committee around (albeit indirectly) the question of whether or not he would retain party leadership. He bested Benyamin Netanyahu by 52-48%. The New York Times described the contest as “narrowly won” by Sharon. I don’t know. Bush beat Kerry by 3% in 2004 if I recall correctly. No one called that a “narrow victory.” Though I do take Greg Myre’s point that
…the close race showed that Mr. Sharon can expect a tough battle if he faces Mr. Netanyahu in the race for party leader next spring, in advance of national elections.
This is indisputedly true. It will be interesting to see what Sharon plans to do between now and the next leadership primary. Will he make some of the same bold moves as he made to disengage from Gaza and give the party and the Israeli electorate a real reason to embrace him politically? Or will he attempt to coast on the momentum of Gaza without making any serious moves or efforts regarding withdrawal from West Bank settlements or other issues affecting Israeli-Palestinian relations?
As for Sharon’s victory, it does show that a slight majority of the party were realistic enough to know that dumping Sharon now would have meant the party was leaping off a political cliff like lemmings jumping into the sea.
But I’m of two minds about the outcome of the vote. If Sharon had lost, he might’ve totally realigned Israeli politics so that a true centrist party (combining centrist Labor and Likud elements) could dominate the next government and pursue serious peace efforts leading to final status talks. We’ll just have to see whether Sharon has a few more dynamic surprises up his sleeve or whether he’ll revert to the time-honored Likud tradition of doing nothing for peace while strengthening settlements and retaining a rigid dominance over Palestinians (policies which are proven failures in terms of protecting Israel’s security).