Politics in Israel had reached a new low over the last few years. The Labor Party under the leadership of the veteran leader, Shimon Peres, had lost its direction and identity. It had lost heavily in the previous elections and its power base was close to obliteration. The sop, that the Labor leadership had fed the public, to justify its tagging on to the Sharon Likud Government as part of the coalition, was its acting as a facilitating watchdog for the momentum towards peace with the Palestinians. It ceased to be interested in social issues and it had supported the Likud line adding its weight in increasing poverty and divisions between rich and poor. It had become Likud B under Shimon Peres whose justification for remaining in the Sharon Government is clear.
Most people were becoming disillusioned with the Labor Party which had resulted in the left of centre in Israel becoming disunited and losing its confidence in the future. The idea of the Labor Government remaining in the coalition in order to support Sharon in carrying out the disengagement from Gaza has now become superfluous and, despite that, it still remained even after the disengagement. Apparently they received such tasty crumbs from Sharon’s plate that they were prepared to turn a blind eye to the dismemberment of Israeli society by creation of the “haves” and the “have not’s”. Even before the disengagement, Labor could have supported Sharon without being in his coalition on the disengagement issue. While in the coalition, they became partners with the previous Finance Minister, Bibi Netanyahu, in eroding salaries of public employees including supporting the so-called Growth and Support Tax which were lopped off our salaries without any accounting whatsoever. Ministerial positions are comfortable for incumbents and even sacrificing one’s ideals is worth it. This was done in order to save Israel’s limping economy. Not a word was mentioned by the Labor Party to oppose Netanyahu’s draconian policies which hit the poor people, pensioners and employees more than the wealthy and strong elements of Israeli society. The Labor Party was on the road to becoming an irrelevant dinosaur!
Amir Peretz has arrived like a breath of fresh air. Now that he has won the elections for leadership, it is hoped that he will steer the Labor Party to represent what it should really be. Tactically he has made the correct decision in leaving the Likud Coalition and ceasing to be Likud B surviving on Sharon juicy tidbits. There is no viable opposition against the ruling coalition and it is up to the Labor Party to get out of its lethargy and provide a viable alternative government with its foresight on Israel’s future in the Middle East and peace with its Palestinian and Arab neighbours.
Shimon Peres has had an illustrious past in the Labor Movement. He may not have had what it takes in the mind of the Israeli electorate to win elections, but he has made many positive contributions to Israel’s stand in the world and would certainly be an excellent asset to Israel as an international elder statesman serving as a roving ambassador despite his age.
Amir Peretz is a charismatic leader and he seems to have the correct ingredients to kick start the Labor Party and give it relevance once more after its years of relative dormancy and loss of direction. Time will tell whether he will be able to deliver the goods. He will have to show more pragmatism towards the various sectors in Israel society including encouraging a free market economy apart from his almost total concern for worker’s rights in the old socialist mode.
Once his programme in the direction of peace and social democracy becomes clearer, it would be wise to create a broad political front, which would include Meretz-Yahad, in the future as an alternative to the Sharon Government.