JERUSALEM: Bibi Netanyahu's job must look easy. After Israel's leading
political parties agreed in principle Monday to hold national elections on
May 17, 1999, the field of candidates expanded to five, almost ensuring the
necessity of a runoff election on June 1. On Monday, Ze'ev Binyamin
"Benny" Begin quit Netanyahu's Likud party (founded by Begin's father,
Menachem) to run from Netanyahu's right. Monday night, Bibi's own foreign
minister, Ariel Sharon, also said he wants in under unspecified "special
circumstances" -- this after calling for unity within the Likud party as recently as Sunday.
Unity is not something Israel can look forward to this spring. Netanyahu now
faces three challenges from the right, one from the left in Labor leader
Ehud Barak, and even one from the vague center in the person of Colin
Powell-esque ex-army chief Amnon Lipkin-Shahak. But as more right-flank
hawks enter this derby, the better it is for more dovish candidates like
Barak and Shahak -- and such political dynamics will hardly be lost on the
savvy Netanyahu. Don't be too surprised if by May, the moribund peace
process suddenly becomes Bibi's most treasured project.