[[Jerusalem Times: Opinion]]


November 11, 2005


This week in Israel….. Behind the news with Gershon Baskin


Bye, Bye Shimon

The biggest news of the week was the remarkable victory of the Labour party’s maverick Amir Peretz.  Against all odds and all of the opinion polls, Peretz led a sophisticated and well organized campaign backed by the labor unions that led him to victory.  Throughout all of Wednesday night, the vote counting kept shifting from Peres to Peretz and by 6.00 am it was more than clear that Peretz won a significant victory.  Peretz’s first congratulations call came from Prime Minister Sharon.  Sharon immediately agreed Peretz’s request to meet early next week in order to set an agreed on date for new elections. Peretz and his campaign supporters then drove to the cemetery in Sderot, his home town, in order to visit the graves of his parents, connecting his present victory to his past, he thanked his late parents and shared his victory with them. From Sderot, Peretz drove up to Jerusalem to visit the grave of the late Yitzhak Rabin. This week is the 10th anniversary of the Rabin assassination. At Rabin’s graveside, Peretz promised to continue the legacy of Rabin including concluding a permanent status peace agreement with the Palestinians.


The big loser, Shimon Peres has not yet addressed the public. It took Peres some 24 hours before he called on Peretz to congratulate him.  In a joint meeting held in Peres’ office, Shimon offered his support to Amir Peretz pledging his allegiance to the Labour party and even apparently supporting the decisiveness of Peretz to leave the government immediately. Many speculate that Peres will finally retire from political life.   It is hard to imagine the Israeli political arena without Shimon Peres in the forefront. Peres’ retirement from politics is, no doubt, long over due.  Way back in the early 1980s Yitzhak Rabin wrote that Peres was relentless. Never has there been a politician who was rejected so consistently by the electorate and remained around for the next race, only to lose once again.  Peres always leads in the polls, but in the only polls that count, Peres can’t seem to win. “I’m a loser?????” he once asked the Labour party’s central committee – “Y E S” came the call from the audience. But Peres responded:”NOOOOO – I did not lose”, but everyone knows that he also did not win.  Yes, Mr. Peres, it is time to face the truth… you are a loser.


Some analysts have called the Peretz victory a political earthquake.  A real, authentic social activist, not a general, from a poor development town, Moroccan born immigrant has taken over the biggest monument of the white, Ashkenazi, middle class establishment.  For the first time the political agenda focused on social issues and not political or security affairs. Peretz has been fighting for years for the rights of the under classes and the hundreds of thousands of unprivileged Israelis.  Peretz has taken on the causes of Israel’s senior citizens, the disabled, the unemployed, the poor and single mothers. Peretz has fought for a minimal wage that would enable people the ability to live with honor. He has fought for better health care, mandatory pensions, and the ability of every citizen to work and earn a respectable living. The wealthy class of Israel and the industrialists are afraid of this maverick and the stock exchange responded with an immediate decline of almost two percent. In a way, the Israeli stock exchange, which has been expanding falsely like a hot air balloon, has not reflected any of the social ills that Israeli society faces. This balloon needs an excuse to decline until the economy will experience more real economic growth. The Israeli economy has grown over the past two years, but most of the public has seen no or almost no improvement in their quality of life. The gaps between the rich and the poor have continued to grow making Israel one of the least equal societies in the world.  Peretz wants to address these issues and he has no reluctance to transfer money from the inflated defense budget back into social welfare, education and health care.


Political speculation


Everyone is now playing the guessing game of where to from here and “who’s in and who’s out” as a result of the Peretz victory.  I will allow myself to engage in the game and put down my own predictions of what may unfold.


1. Israel will go to early elections (now scheduled for November 7, 2006).  The new elections may be held as early as February 2006.


2. Arik Sharon will leave the Likud and form a new political force in the center of the political map.


3. Bibi Netanyahu will lead the splinter of what remains of the Likud in the next elections. The so-called “rebels” will be Netanyahu’s loyal soldiers throughout the campaign until the results come in and the Likud ends up with less than 20 seats, then the last rebellion against Bibi will begin.  Bibi will end up leaving politics, once and for all (praise the Lord!).


4. Sharon’s loyalists, including Ehud Olmert, Tzipi Livni, Gideon Ezra, Meir Shitreet and others will be joined by the “all star club” members who are waiting to decide where to fall – this club includes people like former Shin Bet head Avi Dichter.  Will Sharon’s loyalists include Shimon Peres????  I can’t predict this one yet, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Shimon didn’t show up in Sharon’s shadows. All those who go with Sharon will find themselves once again in the next ruling coalition.


5. If Peres does show up in the new party, some Labourites would do well to find their place there as well.  The natural candidates for political association with the new party include Vilnai who deserves the long-term cooperation with Shimon Peres that he announced when he withdrew his own candidacy for the Labour party leader.  Fouad Ben Eliezer would certainly be welcomed by Sharon as one General to another; on the other hand, Ben Eliezer might believe that under Peretz he might have a better chance to land once again in the Defense minister’s seat. I would be happy to see Dalia Itzik follow Peres wherever he may go. Ehud Barak should definitely pack it in.  He should not be welcomed into any political camp after he has attacked everyone from Sharon to Peretz and then in a transparent and ugly tactical move worthy of the cunning general, realigned himself behind his old arch-rival Shimon Peres.  Barak – go home, we don’t want to see you anymore!


6. Meretz has a real dilemma. Peretz is an authentic leader of the left combining a strong social agenda based on just principles of social-democracy along with a clear stance on peace with the Palestinians. He could just as easily be a leader of the Meretz party. Meretz running against Peretz will bring about the final demise of the shrinking left-wing party. The best option would be to see the integration of Meretz into the new Labour party under Peretz. A re-aligning of the political map would be the first step in rebuilding a peace camp in Israel.


7. The far-right will also reorganize the political map.  The National Religious Party and the National extremists of Leiberman and Benny Alon will run as a united front in the next elections.  They will do well in the elections, competing with Netanyahu’s Likud for the votes of the religious right.


8. Shas will lose seats to Peretz, to Sharon and to the religious right.  Shas will go down to six seats or less.


9. Sharon will be Israel’s next Prime Minister.  He will need to form a coalition government.  His choices will be to turn to the right and invite Netanyahu’s Likud and the extreme right to join him or to look to the left and bring in Peretz’s new Labour together with a smaller Shinui.  Sharon’s agenda will include disengagement in the West Bank leaving about 60% of the West Bank in Palestinian hands. Sharon will not engage the Palestinians in a negotiated process, but the new Labour will support the disengagement while grooming Peretz and preparing the ground for another round of elections some two years into the new government.


10. After the election of 2008-9, Peretz will lead the Israeli left to victory and to a renewed peace process that will lead to a permanent status agreement with the Palestinians.

I know, you’re reading this and thinking….this guy is crazy, maybe, but why not engage in some wishful thinking for a change.


More news but now space


There are several other stories worthy of reporting on in this weekly column but not enough space.  These storied include the unwarranted killing of a Palestinian in east Jerusalem by the Israeli police and the lying of the police regarding the circumstances of the killing.  The autopsy report completed negated the report of the police.  Officials expect the police officer who shot to be charged with causing death by negligence. The officer has said that he shot Samir Rivhi Dari, a 36-year-old man from Isawiyah, when Dari tried to run him over, but the investigation indicates that Dari was not in his car when the officer opened fire and Dari was shot in the back.  This did not transpire in a violent demonstration or a nationalist attack by Palestinians against Israel. It was the aftermath of the arrest of Dari’s nephew on car theft charges.


Also worthy of reporting is regards the story that a group of Israelis in Amman was given advance warning of the terror attack and were sent home some two hours before the bombs went off.  This story was reported throughout the Arab world and naturally led to conjecture that Israel was behind or somehow involved with the bombing.  The Arab world loves conspiracy theories and I have no idea where the charge came from. It was, naturally denied one day later and the Israelis in question had crossed the bridge back to Israel hours after the bombing took place. But who is going to believe the truth when the conspiracy theory fits so well in the minds of those who believe them even before they are articulated?


One final word


One of the victims of the Amman bombings was Abed Alloun from Jerusalem.  Abed last served as a Director General in the PA Ministry of Interior.  Anyone who has been involved in Track I or Track II dialogues between Israelis and Palestinians on strategic affairs and security issues knew Abed. Abed Alloun had participated in a number of IPCRI meetings and his presence and participation added significantly to the seriousness of the discussions and to their positive outcomes.  One of my last recollections of being with Abed was at the end of one of our Israeli-Palestinian strategic meetings that took place abroad.  I went shopping with Abed because he wanted to buy a new football for his son.  Both he and his little boy were crazy about football and spent endless hours together watching the matches of all the leagues, including the Israeli league. I mourn the loss of Abed Alloun, the Palestinians and the Israelis lost another important peace advocate. My condolences to the Alloun family and all of his friends and colleagues.