|04TELAVIV2382||2004-04-26 14:31:00||CONFIDENTIAL||Embassy Tel Aviv|
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
1. (C) With six days to go until Likud's May 2 referendum on
his disengagement plan, inaction by three nominally
supportive but reluctant key Likud ministers, and narrowing
but still winning poll numbers, PM Sharon has available a
menu of tactics from which to draw. Most Israeli poll
results come out only on Fridays, so Sharon must weigh
whether the downward trend in Likud support evidenced over
the past several weeks (reftel) is continuing through these
final days before the vote. Sharon will gear his sometimes
contradictory comments and actions for each audience, leaving
voters to pick their issues of greatest concern and to
speculate, for instance, on whether he would, alternatively,
resign over a referendum loss, as son Omri has suggested, or
push ahead without Likud support.
2. (C) Sharon's available tactics include:
-- Beginning with his Independence Day speech April 27,
Sharon is apt to embark on a major series of statements
stressing again that failure to pursue his withdrawal plan
will cost Israel the President's landmark assurances on
refugees and settlements. He will likely stress again, as he
did to last week's special Knesset session, the magnitude of
those USG assurances, both positively for Israel, and more
important for some Likud factions, negatively for the
-- He will also likely deploy to the stump Defense Minister
and disengagement supporter Shaul Mofaz and COS Moshe Ya'alon
to stress the security bona fides of the plan.
-- Equally important, he will continue to underscore, as he
did in statements published April 26, the potential harm to
the U.S.-Israel relationship in the event that Likudniks
spurn the President's support.
-- In doing so, Sharon may refer again to the fact that the
Likud vote is non-binding, although the claim cuts both ways:
some potential supporters are apt to decide there's no need
to vote since Sharon will go ahead even absent a win, and
some fence-straddlers could conclude that they cold register
a protest without derailing the PM's plan. In any event,
Sharon can point to overwhelming support throughout the
Israeli public for Gaza withdrawal, stress the insignificance
of removing the four remote West Bank settlements when
compared to permanently securing the major blocs, and allude
to the possibility that he may push ahead even in the face of
a Likud defeat.
-- He may, even at the same time, hint that he is tying his
own premiership to the plan. As son Omri has done already,
he can point to the centrality of the plan to his leadership
-- what he will suggest is the only Israeli leadership in 56
years that has won such support on refugees and settlements
-- although that resignation yields as much public skepticism
as it does concern.
-- Sharon will almost certainly maintain as tightly as
possible the lockdown of the territories, seeking to avoid a
multiple casualties terror attack that could sway
fence-sitting Likud voters against withdrawal.
-- Should the on-the-ground intelligence present him with the
opportunity, Sharon could immediately target the new Gaza
Hamas leaders, reinforcing his position among the critical
hard right in Likud. In a much longer reach that would
require fortuitous, timely intelligence, and given the USG's
ban on the easier-to-hit Arafat, he could conceivably reach
out against Damascus-based Hamas leader Meshaal.
-- Sharon will almost certainly explore the price that
reluctant ministers Bibi Netanyahu, Silvan Shalom and Limor
Livnat will seek to actively campaign for the plan.
-- Sharon could also decide to complete the West Bank
separation barrier so as to connect now all segments of the
fence deep into the West Bank settlement blocs such as Ariel,
in each case counting on USG acquiescence to such unilateral
amendment as steps necessary to "save" the withdrawal plan.
-- Were more time available, Sharon might seek additional USG
assurances, such as on Jerusalem -- or release from some
aspects of his commitments, but the time is too short.
Should the referendum results be close -- either a narrow win
or a narrow defeat -- Sharon could, however, claim the need
for further Israeli gains as the condition for moving forward
3. (C) Pollster Hannoch Smith told poloff April 26 that, on
the basis of results from a private poll he is in the process
of carrying out, and the narrowing voter margin
notwithstanding, he sees the Sharon withdrawal plan
"squeaking by" May 2. Pollster Avinoam Brog also predicted a
Sharon win. He noted that the big problem facing pollsters
on this issue is the significant number of Likud members who
decline to provide a response -- as opposed to being
undecided. He said that, intuitively, he sees a "pendulum
effect" by which Likud voters initially saw the Sharon plan
as a chance for progress, then became frightened at the
prospect of actually withdrawing and appearing weak. The
next stage, he suggested, could be that these same Likud
voters step back and ask themselves whether they "want to go
on with terror...," and opt to support the withdrawal plan
May 2. Brog said the back-to-back combination of Israel's
Fallen Heroes Day and Independence Day presents "a very sharp
moment" where Israelis move from mourning death to dancing
for joy. The prospect of achieving the good times that
Israelis wish to live will nibble at them this week, he said.
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