May 03, 2004

Israel's Leadership Vacuum

Well, it looks like the Gaza withdrawal plan just went down to defeat. Debka's headline

Sharon said he would not step down after disappointing outcome of Likud referendum but will continue to lead nation. Final Likud poll figure registers 59.5 to 39.7 percent defeat for disengagement.

He thanked President Bush for deep friendship and historic support. He will announce his next steps after consultation with Likud ministers, Knesset faction and coalition partners.

I wonder who will be first among the arab critics of this plan to thank the Likud party faithful for killing it and giving them what they want, more Israeli occupation with more pointless negotiations that never lead anywhere. All that seems to be left of Sharon's initiative is a stronger commitment to kill Hamas leaders on an accelerated schedule.

This result can't be too comfortable for President Bush. He went out on a limb for Sharon on the understanding that Sharon could deliver his party. Now that Sharon is exposed as not being capable of this basic requirement of democratic leadership Bush has to cast about for somebody who can speak for Likud and the majority of the Israeli electorate. Unfortunately there don't seem to be very many alternatives around. Netanyahu stood with Sharon and is thus similarly discredited. Peres is moribund just like his party, Labor. There really doesn't seem to be anybody on the Israeli side who seems to have positioned themselves well to be a broad based Israeli leader who can move things forward on the Israeli side. Sharon is scrambling to regain leadership but it's unclear whether he's walking wounded or the living dead at this point.

A lack of leadership has long been a powerful stumbling block to a negotiated settlement of the palestinian situation. But that has usually meant a lack of leadership on the palestinian side. Now it seems like both sides are similarly handicapped.

A small footnote: The Debka article referenced above engaged in a bit of revisionism. I distinctly recall that Netanyahu came on side and supported Sharon's plan but the Debka article leaves the distinct impression that Netanyahu remained opposed throughout the campaign.

Posted by TMLutas at May 3, 2004 11:12 AM