[[Jerusalem Times: Opinion]]
November 4, 2005
This week in Israel….. Behind the news with Gershon Baskin
Shimon Peres is afraid that he won’t win the upcoming primaries next Wednesday for the leadership of the Labour party. His camp is putting pressure on Matan Vilnai and Binyamin Ben Eliezer to withdraw their candidacy in order to leave the field open for a contest between Histadrut head Amir Peretz and Shimon Peres. So far, both Vilnai and Ben Eliezer refuse to resign the contest. Peretz has the well oiled machinery of the workers committees of the large unions behind him. That machinery will help to get Peretz supporters to the polls. Peres might enjoy more support from the old timers and party operatives but they lack the enthusiasm and the persuasiveness to get the voters to the polls.
Labour party ideologue and old timer Yitzhak Ben Aharon and former Labour Party peacenik Lova Eliav have called for party members to support Peretz. Peretz has managed to gain the support of other important public figures from the arts and academia – those usually not known for supporting Mizrahi candidates from development towns and Moroccan backgrounds. It is clear that only Amir Peretz presents any kind of alternative leadership in the Labour party and perhaps the only avenue for preserving the Labour party as a separate entity from the Likud. Peretz presents a agenda that is more solidly based on social welfare values combined with a clear political platform that supports a Geneva type agreement with the Palestinians. With Peretz in the leadership, the date of new elections clearly moves forward, as Peretz will lead the Labour party into opposition, first and foremost over the upcoming budget votes. Peres, on the other hand, is almost surely going to keep Labour closely aligned with Sharon and in the government for as long as possible.
The unrelenting Ehud Barak
Ehud Barak is stirring up troubles with the amazing chutzpah to think that anyone would actually listen to him. Barak is backing Peres and is calling on Vilnai and Ben Eliezer to withdraw their candidacies and to back Shimon Peres. It wasn’t so long ago that Barak fought Peres with all of the cunningness of a fox in a chicken pen. Barak’s feelings toward Peres are only slightly better than the ones he had for Yasser Arafat. Barak isn’t interested in supporting Peres, but he figures that the only chance he has of coming back into leadership is by supporting Peres. Barak believes that Peres, in his old age, won’t last a full term in office in the next Knesset. Barak believes that his support for Peres will leverage his ability to continue to hold a lot of control of the Labour party central council – which he helped to designate. Barak is unrelenting in his determination to de-legitimize the primaries by stating that Peretz manipulated the electorate to his favor by bringing in so many Histadrut members. There were cases of real fraud, and not only by the Histadrut, but by the other camps as well. These were all brought into the open and those remaining registered voters have been cleared by the independent panel to investigate the charges. Now, like a mantra, Barak unrelentingly repeats his claim that the primaries are still illegitimate and that the Labour party central committee (controlled by Barak’s people) should select the next leader. Barak did a great service to the country when he lost the elections and retired from politics. He did a great service when he withdrew his candidacy for Labour party head, now, like Bibi, he should return to business and keep out of trying to “save the country”. The best way that Barak can save the country is by staying out of politics.
Sharon failed in winning the support of the Knesset for the appointment of Ronny Baron as Minister of Industry and Trade, Zeev Boim as minister of Immigrant Absorption, and more importantly, of Ehud Olmert as Ministry of Finance. Olmert is completing a three month term as temporary Minister of Finance. If after three months, he is not approved by the Knesset, Sharon must appoint someone else and win the Knesset’s approval for the appointment. Sharon could appoint someone else for a three month term, or he could take on the position himself. Most observers believe that if he separates the vote for Olmert from the vote for Baron and Boim, he will win a majority in the Knesset for Olmert and lost on the vote for Boim for Baron. Sharon may do just that, but his reluctance reflects his legitimate fears that during this next year, every legislative step that he takes will be followed by a nasty negotiation with his own faction and he will have to suffer the humility of continual defeats. Likud rebels are pushing Sharon to reappoint Netanyahu as Finance Minister. It seems clear that Sharon will not go down that path – and most people believe that Bibi wouldn’t accept anyway so why provide him with any chances of a come back.
Sharon has come to the conclusion that the current system of government must change in Israel. He is definitely repenting for supporting the end to the system of direct election for the Prime Minister. Some analysts say that Sharon would like to see an US style presidential system here. In reality, without the complexity and the traditions of the checks and balances built into the US system, what would most likely emerge in Israel in trying to copy the US system would look more like a Singaporean style benevolent dictatorship. This is something that we could definitely do without. In any event, it is a superfluous debate because without the ability to even get Knesset support for two minor appointments, how could Sharon get the Knesset to support any kind of real governmental system change that is aimed at strengthening Sharon’s direct rule over the country?
Sharon is seriously contemplating going to the President and calling for new elections. He has held meetings with his close advisors from the “farm forum” and others to discuss when and how to launch the new political party that he will head. The ground work has been prepared and the team is only waiting for the “green light” from the boss. Likud primaries are likely to take place without Sharon in the front and Landau and Netanyahu can fight out who will lead the party that will get less than 20 seats in the next election. If Sharon does go independent of Likud in the coming months, Peres will probably join him – with or without the Labour party. Even if Peres wins the Labour primaries, there is likely to be a split there as well with Peretz being the most likely candidate to lead a new coalition on the left with Meretz-Yahad joining Peretz. The political map is in flux and the next Knesset will look very different from what we grown accustomed to. In the meantime, the political process with the Palestinians is frozen and that is unlikely to change, at least until after January 2006 when the Palestinians have their own elections.
Ten years ago today we witnessed the murder of Yitzhak Rabin. Next to Sharon’s disengagement, in the clearest vindication of Rabin ever from a Likud politician, Ehud Olmert speaking yesterday at a memorial for Rabin said: "There is no doubt that the Oslo Accords forced Israeli society into a self-examination that led to the conclusion that Israel must return to its correct borders and that it should be a Jewish and democratic state”. This is quite a long distance from the position that Olmert and other Likud leaders took ten years ago, especially Ariel Sharon, but it is not enough. In an excellent editorial, today’s Haaretz calls on the current leadership to recognize that the real legacy of Rabin must be in the government’s readiness to confront the lawlessness of the religious right wing in Israel. “For more than 30 years, the religious right has made a laughing stock of law and democracy, overpowering heads of state and cabinet ministers one after the other…Outpost residents have confronted and even physically injured IDF soldiers in recent weeks, but the cabinet did not come to its senses and exercise its authority as required by its own decisions. This capitulation to the religious right is, unfortunately, part of the Rabin heritage. The assassination is the direct result of this surrender.”
Gush Katif crying
The former settlers, now evacuees of Gush Katif are crying once again. In truth, many of them are truly suffering, they don’t have proper housing, they don’t have work; many of them don’t have access to their own belongings which have been locked up in closed storage facilities. Everyday the Israeli newspapers, including Haaretz, are filled with close up human interest stories about the former settlers. As human interest stories, detached from political realities, their tales of woe call for empathy. Nonetheless, I am, frankly, sick of their whining. They are to blame for their own situation. They did not sign up with the disengagement executive bodies. They did not work with the system in finding alternative housing – temporary or permanent. They refused to recognize that the disengagement was a legitimate decision of the government and the Knesset that had the backing of the majority of the public. They waited for a miracle convinced by their Rabbinic leaders that the disengagement would not happen. Now they blame the government and target the head of the disengagement executive – Yonatan Bassi for their problems. It is time for them to target their own leadership and themselves for their own situation. When they begin facing their reality as one that they hold responsibility for, I will be ready to listen to their crying and maybe feel some empathy for their plight.