In the world of sport (to which I have a full membership), teams try desperately to get labeled as the underdog before a big match. It seems to provide an extra motivation to win and keeps arrogance and over-confidence on the sidelines.
Well, I am not sure Ariel Sharon intended to be placed in the underdog corner of the 'all gloves off' Likud boxing ring, but that's where he found himself leading up to yesterday's vote. And today, well he's proven to be a real survivor and warrior once again. No one expected him ever to be Prime Minister after the Lebanon fiasco and not many backed him to overcome the Netanyahu challenge, even at the first of several inner Likud hurdles that lie ahead.
And yet, here he is now with a victory, against all odds. Honestly, I was happy to buy some lines for last night's 50 million shekel lotto draw. I am not sure I would have placed an agara on Sharon had I been given the option to do so. The odds of 1:2000000 for lotto appeared somewhat encouraging in comparison.
Victory it is though, thanks very much I would say to the Israeli media which has doubled as a powerful Sharon fan club for some time now. Together with Sharon advocates, they did very well to paint him not only as the underdog, but as a true representative of the majority and the only realistic alternative to "extreme elements" like Landau and Netanyahu. Coupled with a little help from the infamous microphone and ironically from predictable post-Disengagement terror, I think many chose the devil they think they know well over the devil that they're still not quite as comfortable with.
When it comes down to it, the close finish (Sharon by a nose) is a fair reflection not only of the 'no holds barred' difficult times ahead for the Likud, but also of the significant split that still remains nationwide, especially when it comes to land for peace when the peace is not forthcoming. Equally, the result illustrates that some norms of political logic still remain in the Likud - that is, don't vote for new elections when you are in the government and you have a very popular leader.
Still, logic normally plays little place in our lives here. If it did, we would have all left and gone to live in New Zealand by now. This country runs on something else quite undescribable - for good and for bad.
Victory is sweet and defeat is indeed bitter for Mr Bibi who now appears under some pressure. Some are already calling him "Loser Peres of the Likud". A little unfair but I would not discount the possibility that there might be a push to find someone more widely respected who could unseat Sharon. Uzi Landau maybe? DEBKAfile predicted that recently too.
If you don't continue to win matches, you can't call yourselves 'the best in the world'. Sharon still has some tough assignments ahead of him and he'll have to show his best political skills yet if he's still to be standing at the end of this season. Deciding what to do with those who backed Bibi will be a good indication of where the Likud family is heading. Unity calls are well and good but you can't help feeling that Sharon will take the 104 vote majority in the Likud and take his friends with him toward his next policy goals. Own goal that might turn out to be. Let's face it, almost 50% did in fact vote against him.
A day is a very long time in Israeli current affairs. Don't take your eye off the ball for a second!