Rabin, Sharon, Peretz, Peres and Bibi?

This month marks the tenth anniversary of the assassination of former Israeli Prime Minister and Labour Party leader Yitzchak Rabin. The trend of late has been to trash the legacy of Rabin, arguing that he was naive to deal with Yasser Arafat and that the fledgling peace achieved in the wake of the Oslo Accords had come crashing down by 2000. All this is true, and much of the good work of Rabin was based on the false premise that at that time Israel had a viable partner for peace.

I heard an interesting counter-theory today at a memorial service for Rabin. The theory goes that the template established by Rabin was the one that Sharon has ultimately followed through on. It was Rabin that articulated the need for physical separation (later adopted by Sharon in the form of The Fence) and it was Rabin who identified some Jewish West Bank communities beyond the green line which would need to be included in Israel proper (controversially but rightly adopted by Sharon). Even the land-for-peace formula so despised by the right has been the one the has ultimately prevailed in the form of the Gaza Strip return to Palestinian control.

More recent developments in the Israeli Labour Party have been less promising. After acting in the national interest for two years as part of a unity government, a new leader has risen to the top and wishes to lurch away from government and to the left. Alarm bells should be ringing loudly about new Labour leader Amir Peretz, whose background lies in Israel's trade union movement, Histadrut. He seeks to transform the party away from the centrist party is was under Shimon Peres and make it into a dovish party of the left. Also, as the country continues to see its economy decline, tough fiscal leadership is needed, not the special interests inherent in the mix of labour and government.

For those with an interest in political history (and Ari's bumper sticker collection) would be curious to hear more about Amir Peretz's recent rise to power. In 2003 he ran against the Labour Party which he now leads, gathering his union friends and running as Am Echad, translated as 'One Nation'. The ticket was essentially a vehicle to get Peretz elected, which it duly managed to do. As can be seen from these stickers, Peretz ran a personal campaign against the major parties, lumping then-Labour leader Amram Mitzna in with Arik Sharon and Tommy Lapid (leader of the rising secular party, Shinui) in a slightly-bizarre campaign focussing on how awkward they'd look with his moustache:

Amir Peretz's 2003 campaign

Amir Peretz's 2003 campaign

Which just goes to demonstrate that no matter how high the stakes, all politics is ultimately personal.

This doesn't auger well for the Labour Party. The rumours out of Israel suggest that Sharon is likely to break away from Likud to form his own centrist party, and will leave Netanyahu (or possibly Silvan Shalom) to lead Likud. With Peretz leading the Labour Party, they will be relegated to a far-left rump, with most moderate left voters getting behind Sharon's new outfit whilst most of the right with stay with Likud. Interesting times ahead...


Jim Woodcock said…
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Jim Woodcock said…
I suspect that during a terrorism crisis, any opposition party, particularly a left-wing one, will have trouble gaining political traction.

But I wouldn't assume that this would put Labour on the outer. I'd say that most of the voters that Sharon's new party will attract will be moderate Likud supporters who, for one reason or another, would never vote Labour.

I think that just like the emergence of the Australian Democrats and the British Lib Dems, this new party will strengthen the progressive side of politics more than it weakens it.
El Presidente said…
From when Shimon Peres first agreed to join Sharon and form a national unity government, it was clearly the best possible governmental combination for a country in the middle of an intifada. That is, the kind of Churchill hardarse figure every country (justifiably) elects during a war, but with sensible heads like Peres near enough to him to have a moderating influence, and be ready to take over if and when Sharon, like Churchill in 1945, proved himself right for the war but wrong for the peace.

I find it astounding that, when the intifada is by no means over, and peace is elusive as ever, the actual reason this Peretz fellow is leaving the national unity government is economic. Isn't that so quintessentially
"trade-uniony"? Risk national security over wharfie's right to sleep on the job, or Israel's equivalent? It'd be comic if it wasn't such an un-comic political situation.

Mind you, Netanyahu's just as bankrupt. Arguably he threw just as significant a spanner in the national unity government works when he left Sharon's cabinet, excacerbating the split in Likud and stoking the support of the settler movement, all for personal ambition.

If national unity government is off the cards, a new centrist party led by Sharon is the next best option. You're right: interesting times ahead.
Jim Woodcock said…
Is it really correct to call this a centrist party?

To me it looks like a conservative party that's willing to compromise and make deals (not exactly an un-conservative trait). It may or may not take economic policies into the election that are to the left of Likud's; but in the long run, one party will probably swallow the other (depending on what the Palestinians do), and then they will do what centre-right parties do.

It's probably fair to categorise this as a personality rift, particularly as Sharon and Netanyahu or Shalom (I love the irony in that name), are going to differ much more in rhetoric than in what they'd actually do if they win.
El Presidente said…
Well, I'd agree that a vote for this new party will be a vote to continue Sharon's policies over the last two or so years. I guess it's a question of whether you think what Sharon's been doing - limited military concessions, limited availability to participate in peace talks, combined with tough security policy - as 'centrist', or 'right', or whatever. The media are certainly using the 'centrist' tag with gusto.

I wouldn't describe Ariel Sharon as centrist in a flying fit, normally, but I'd say a party of Likud members purged of their far-right settler parliamentarians and voting base, and possibly with Shimon Peres and a sizeable slice of the Labour Party joining up, would be close enough, and desirable.

True that Netanyahu and Sharon differ much more in rhetoric than in what they in all probability think is a good solution. But that's not the same as what each would actually do as PM. Netanyahu, to force a challenge and build support, made a very ugly bed with some very ugly people in Likud. So if he became Prime Minister he would be incapable of the kind of pragmatic military concession policy that Sharon is now explicitly seeking a mandate for.
Lisa said…
I think the last paragraph of your comment, David, really hits the nail on the head. And so a coalition excluding Likud seems likely.
Anonymous said…
For those who are wondering: the top sticker says "Taxi Drivers are with Amir Peretz", and the bottom sticker says "Suddenly everybody will be Amir Peretz".

David, you're exactly right when you say this is a party that is aiming to continue Sharon's policies. Take a look at Sharon's career and you'll see that he's the ultimate pragmatist. As opposed to Peretz and Netanyahu who are ideologues. This party is deserving of the tag "centrist" in that it has no ideology. It's simply impossible to place it on the right or left. Make no mistake about it, Sharon intends to finish the job he began with the Gaza withdrawal, that is leaving the country with actual defined borders (and therefore security), something it has lacked for all 57 years of its existence. Having fulfilled that, he will then follow his friend Peres into retirement.

Anonymous said…
Oh and for the record, the big fella will form a coalition with anybody who will help him achieve that aim - even if it means dishing out unreasonable concessions to smaller parties. Any party in the Knesset could be a part of this coalition, from Meretz on the far left to National Union on the far right, through to the religious parties. Don't be surprised if one of the Arab parties even joins, which would be a first.


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