|28/03/2005 | Background/ Israel's nightmare scenarios: How to keep score
In Israel, there is no such thing as a foregone conclusion. Yesterday's tenet is tomorrow's misconception. This morning's impossibility becomes tonight's given. Take the disengagement plan, which from the start the left dismissed as empty chicanery, and the right downplayed as unworkable.
It was long clear to much of the left that the disengagement would never happen. Its author, their hated Ariel Sharon, would never allow it to. Much of the right dismissed the plan as well, viewing the time frame as tantamount to eternity.
Under the Special Theory of Relativity that governs Israeli politics, however, an eternity can be measured in days, and Never can come within the hour.
Thus it was that of late, Sharon's tattered, teetering minority government was suddenly reinvented with a comfortable parliamentary majority, the anti-disengagement forces' referendum campaign tanked, and the Gaza exit began to take on the look of a lock.
Thus it was that a week ago, out of the blue, the moribund referendum concept was exhumed and resuscitated, the government was newly in peril, the outcome of the budget vote was anyone's guess, and the Gaza exit daily faced a multiplicity of new obstacles.
Then, in the space of a weekend, it appeared that Sharon had managed to locate the critical piece in the budget puzzle - the puzzle which if unsolved could end his career by Thursday - with a NIS 700 million incentive package to secular-centrist Shinui party chief Yosef Lapid.
Not so fast.
On Sunday afternoon, Lapid's nemesis, ultra-Orthodox Shas party leader Eli Yishai, renewed for the umpteenth time a vow to try to upset the Sharon disengagement bandwagon.
Yishai let it be known that he would try to persuade Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef to order the Sephardi faction's Knesset faction to vote for a referendum when the issue comes for a first reading on Monday. The apparent object: Win preliminary passage of the plebiscite, and thus break up the government.
At present, Israel faces main two zero-sum scenarios, the first the nightmare of the prime minister and the dream of the opponents of his disengagement plan, the second, the mirror opposite.
It's all riding on the Knesset. Vote after vote, all of them this week.
SHARON'S NIGHTMARE SCENARIO
From Sharon's standpoint, the revival of the referendum concept could touch off a disastrous chain reaction that could spell the end of his government, and an ignominious end to his career.
The man to watch: Former Sephardi chief rabbi and ultra-Orthodox Shas party spiritual leader Ovadia Yosef.
The hinge: Will Rabbi Yosef rescind his opposition to a referendum, and instruct his party's legislators to vote in favor when the Knesset considers a plebiscite bill on Monday?
The odds: Extremely unlikely, just shy of impossible.
1. CURRENT SOLID VOTES FOR A REFERENDUM:
* Likud 'rebels' or 'loyalists': 13
* National Religious Party: 4
* Religious Zionism: 2
* National Union: 7
* Likud non-rebels (Rivlin, Sa'ar, Eitan): 3
2. POTENTIAL 'SNOWBALL' IF SHAS VOTES IN FAVOR:
* Shas: 11
* Agudath Israel: 3
* Degel Hatorah: 2
ADDITIONAL VOTES NEEDED FOR PASSAGE IF SCENARIO HOLDS: 16
3. THE HINGE: LIKUD SWING VOTES
The reservoir: Subtracting the Likud 'rebels' and the three 'non-rebel' referendum advocates from the 40-strong Likud Knesset faction leaves 24 Likud MKs. They now hold the decision, and the fate of the disengagement, in their hands.
Some, notably Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, have been outspoken in support of a referendum, even though he has voted for the disengagement.
4. THE HEDGE: SHARON'S SECURITY WALL
The prime minister's last redoubt is a core group of Likud MKs who have pledged fealty to him. Analysts believe that if he can count on the votes of 10 of them, he will beat back the referendum on Monday.
On paper, he currently has 12: his son, Omri; cabinet ministers Ehud Olmert, Tzipi Livni, Meir Sheetrit, Avraham Hirschson, and Gideon Ezra; as well as MKs Eli Aflalo, Ze'ev Boim, Inbal Gavrieli, Roni Bar-On, Majali Wahabim and Netanyahu's former senior aide Ruhama Avraham.
* Monday 28 March: Knesset approves referendum.
* Tuesday 29 March: Labor leaves the government in protest.
* Thursday 31 March: Amid myriad votes/filibuster, budget defeated. Knesset is dissolved.
* Thursday 14 April: Likud primary elects Netanyahu as party leader
* Monday 27 June: General elections
* Wednesday 20 July: Disengagement target is missed
* Monday 15 Aug: New government takes office
Budget and scheduling constraints put off disengagement until first part of 2006 at the earliest, a delay which could cripple and kill the plan.
THE SETTLER'S NIGHTMARE SCENARIO
* Monday 28 March: Knesset defeats referendum bill
* Thursday 31 March: Thanks to Shinui, Knesset has passed 2005 State Budget. Knesset adjourns until May, effectively paralyzing parliamentary efforts to topple the government
* Wednesday 20 July. Disengagement begins
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