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Is Israel's PM Ariel Sharon on the way out?

04/01/2004

Israel's State Prosecutor, Edna Arbel, has announced she plans to seek an indictment of PM Ariel Sharon for bribery, and has submitted a draft indictment to Attorney General Mazuz. This could spell the beginning of the end for Sharon's government and policies, but that is not necessarily a Good Thing for peace. The government that eventually follows Sharon may make Palestinians understand that the situation could be worse. It is probable the upheaval will produce an even more hawkish government. Sharon's closest rival, Bibi Nethanyahu, has positioned himself well to the right of the Prime Minister and opposes any concessions or unilateral withdrawal.

Under Israeli law, Sharon doesn't have to resign if indicted, though several members of Knesset, including those of the coalition Shinui party, have demanded that he suspend himself. It will be interesting to see what the Shinui party will do if Sharon does not resign, since Shinui built a reputation as a clean government party.

Sharon is being indicted over the "Greek Island" scandal. Allegedly, Likud party consiglieri David Appel inveigled Sharon and his sons in a scheme to promote development of a Greek Island as a resort. At one point Sharon reputedly told Appel, "The island is in our hands. According to the indictment returned against Appel, Appel hired Gilad Sharon, Ariel Sharon's son, to avat a salary of tens of thousands of shekels a month plus a large bonus, though he knew that Gilad Sharon did not have the background and skills needed for the job. According to the indictment, Appel actually paid Gilad Sharon $100,000 and transfered over NIS 2.5 million (over half a million dollars) to Ariel Sharon's Shiqmim Negev ranch. The indictment also alleged bribery charges against deputy PM Ehud Ohlmert.

A second scandal has been hanging over Sharon since before the last elections, when it was disclosed that he had received a large loan to cover election expenses. Police suspect that the loan was part of a money laundering scheme. At the time, Sharon requested time from the elections commission to answer the charges, and was allowed to address the nation. Instead of sticking to the topic however, Arik made a speech that combined the salient features of "I am not a crook" and "I did not have sex with that woman" with allegations that the Labor party was trying to "usurp" the government and other election scandals. Though the speech was cut off by the elections comissioner, it managed to recoup the Likud's position in the polls. Gilad Sharon has been ordered repeatedly to hand over documents related to the case, but has managed to avoid doing so until now, through a series of appeals and postponements granted to his high-powered lawyers. The "catch" is that Gilad Sharon claims that the docoments are not in his posession, but rather in the posession of third parties, some of whom may be fictitious according to police. In yet another delaying tactic, Sharon's lawyer now says that while they will ask the third parties for those documents, the third parties are not obliged to produce them.

Sharon is due to travel to the USA April 14 to discuss the unilateral disengagement plan and other problems on the Middle East Agenda with President Bush and the US administration. Attorney General Mazuz will probably not return an indictment before then, but the situation is awkward at best.

No charges are being brought against Deputy PM Ehud Olmert, so he would be able to take over as Prime Minister. Olmert supports Sharon's unilateral disengagement plan and other policies, but Olmert probably doesn't have the political clout to get Likud party agreement over this controversial measure, so we would likely see new elections in the near future, with hawkish former Prime Minister Benjamin Nethanyahu leading the party. Those elections may result in a setback for the Likud, because Israelis are dissatisfied with the government's economic policy of "feed the rich and rob the poor." However, the divided, impoverished and discouraged parties of the Israeli left are hardly likely to garner more than a few more seats in the Knesset. The Likud would form the next government, but it would be a new and much more hawkish party than the one being led by Ariel Sharon.

Ami Isseroff

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Original text copyright by the author and MidEastWeb for Coexistence, RA. Posted at MidEastWeb Middle East Web Log at http://www.mideastweb.org/log/archives/00000238.htm where your intelligent and constructive comments are welcome. Distributed by MEW Newslist. Subscribe by e-mail to mew-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. Please forward by email with this notice and link to and cite this article. Other uses by permission.

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