Tuesday, May 21, 2002
Ha'aretz has another article on Labor's continuing crack-up. Avraham Burg is now allied with Fuad Ben-Eliezer against Haim Ramon. Yossi Beilin and and Shlomo Ben-Ami are on the sidelines making threats. And there's always Shimon Peres, the Jimmy Carter of Israel, running a party and a foreign policy even though he is neither party head nor Prime Minister.
Beilin is threatening to quit Labor if Ben-Eliezer remains leader. Burg is threatening to quit if Ramon's unilateral separation plan becomes Labor's official policy. Ben-Ami has turned against Ramon's plan and, so far as I can tell, doesn't know whom to support. What a mess!
I continue to believe that the best thing for Labor would be to split in two. The dovish wing, Meretz and Am Echad are a solid left-wing bloc. Together, they can be a coherent left-wing opposition. If Labor as a whole follows Beilin, the party will simply be annihilated, and the rump that remains will be absorbed into a Meretz-led camp of the left. The government will be exclusively right-wing, and/or dependent on Shas for survival. If Labor follows Ben-Eliezer, their left wing will bolt, and the remainder of the party will be part of a Likud-led national unity coalition after the next elections. That's much better for Israel. And Peres knows this. If the left leaves Labor, he'll stay.
We all know what the next election is going to bring. Sharon is going to be the head of Likud and the next Prime Minister. Shas and Labor are going to decline. The Likud, Shinui, the NRP and Ihud Leumi/Yisrael Beiteinu are going to grow. Meretz may grow or shrink depending on whether Labor looks like a viable left-wing alternative. Sharon will want to put together a national-unity coalition because (a) it helps Israel diplomatically, and (b) it means he will not be dependent on Shas. He will need a rump Labor party that he can deal with to balance the far-right and to improve his negotiating position with the religious parties. There is no chance of a left-wing government. So Labor has got to decide whether it wants to be part of the leadership of a unity government or the opposition to a coalition beholden to the far-right and the religious parties. That's their choice. Hopefully they'll make the choice that's best for Israel, and not only for their individual political careers.
As an aside, the more I hear about Ramon's plan the worse it sounds. I have more respect for Ben-Ami and Burg than I had, simply for their willingness to support Ben-Eliezer rather than a fellow dove. Ben-Ami favors an imposed solution: an international force to control the territories and an Israeli retreat therefrom. That's a defensible position, if one I would disagree with. Ramon favors running away. That's not a defensible position - it's a guarantee of disaster.