The world of Knesset politics is nothing if not byzantine and unfathomable. Today’s Knesset vote rejecting Prime Minister Sharon’s chosen candidates to fill two ministerial portfolios is suitably obscure to an outsider. What is especially odd is that eight members of his own faction voted against him. In many cases, such a defeat might’ve lead a prime minister to resign. But not Sharon who is a wily tactical politician.
Here is some background on how Sharon got to where he is today: in the run-up to Gaza disengagement, Sharon fired two ministers who opposed his policy. And in an effort to entice Likud MKs who opposed the withdrawal he may have offered a few choice carrots to them to switch their vote (a time-honored Israeli political tradition which has often led to some very strange bedfellows). Today’s two rejected ministers, sometimes known as “Sharon cronies,” were probably offered their positions as a reward for switching their votes on Gaza.
After Sharon nominated them, Benyamin Netanyahu and his “rebel” faction were lying in wait and successfully ambushed Sharon today leading to a 60-54 defeat on the motion. Actually, Haaretz describes the defeat as “not unexpected.” Here’s how the newspaper analyzes the result:
Analysts said [and I think that the NY Times is bad about attribution of sources!] Tuesday that the Knesset vote showed that the rebels, who can count on eight votes in the 40-strong Likud faction and have at times commanded as many as 16, now hold an effective veto over Sharon’s parliamentary moves.
Speculation was thus rife on Tuesday that Sharon would either move soon to dissolve the Knesset and lead the Likud into early elections, or work to found a new party with himself at the helm.
As with Yitzchak Rabin’s 1975 toppling over Israel’s acceptance of the delivery of new F-16s on Shabbat, the reason for Sharon’s defeat will only be remembered by political junkies. But the defeat itself IS important because of what it will lead to in the future: either new elections in which Sharon will lead a Likud ‘housecleaned’ of the rebels; or Sharon at the head of a new centrist party (which might absorb Labor’s centrists as well). Either outcome may enable Sharon to pursue a bolder policy regarding West Bank settlement withdrawals and negotiations with the Palestinians. Given Sharon’s past history, it’s far too early to feel any level of certainty that he would pursue such positive course. But it is a distinct possibility.