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Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The Labor party primary

I suppose I can't ignore it forever. But I do want to start out by saying that never in the history of this country has so much attention been paid to why an election was receiving so little attention. The weekend media was full of it.

The Labor party's rules stipulate that any time they lose a national election (which is most of the last thirty years), they have to hold a 'primary' for the party leadership within fourteen months after the election. And so on Monday, exactly fourteen months after they finished second behind Kadima Achora in the national election, Labor held a primary. There were five candidates. In the order of their finish, last to first: Danny Yatom, who in my eyes was the only candidate even slightly worthy of consideration; Ophir Pines-Paz or Paz-Pines, who is a principled leftist and probably would have taken Labor out of the government; defenseless 'defense minister' Amir Comrade Peretz, who now wants to do to the economy what he did to the military, and who drew about 22% of the vote; Ami Ayalon, a former head of the General Security Service and admitted pathological liar, who knowingly let a 19-year old girl sit in jail for a crime she did not commit; and Ehud Barak, who managed to run a campaign in which he made two public appearances and avoided all questions about his leading the army's flight from Lebanon in 2000, an event that led directly to last summer's war.

Since neither Barak nor Ayalon obtained the 40% minimum required to win outright, there is a run-off between the two of them on June 12. It is presumed that Comrade Peretz's minions will do what he tells them to do (which may be a big assumption, especially in the case of his non-Jewish supporters) and the latest rumor has Peretz endorsing Ayalon in turn for a 'plum portfolio' in the current government, which Ayalon has no way of guaranteeing Peretz and which Peretz denies demanding.

For those who have forgotten, on May 4, Ayalon ruled out joining a coalition led by Prime Minister Ehud K. Olmert in light of the Winograd Commission interim report. That promise is of course forgotten. If you read this article, you can get a feeling for everything that is wrong with Israeli politics:
"This is our chance to join Ami Ayalon and give Labor a chance to defeat [Likud chairman Binyamin] Netanyahu."

An Ayalon adviser said Peretz should endorse him because his socioeconomic policies were similar and because "Peretz knows that Ami, unlike Barak, will keep his word."

Sources close to Barak questioned the value of an endorsement from Peretz and said he would not go out of his way to draft Peretz's support. They said Barak was more likely to try to divide the Peretz camp by winning the endorsement of Science, Culture and Sport Minister Ghaleb Majadle, who led Peretz to victory in the Arab sector.

"Ayalon can make whatever deal he wants," a Barak associate said. "The voters are smart enough that any trick he plays will come back to him as a boomerang."

But other Barak backers said they still hoped Peretz would endorse Barak, because Labor was more likely to remain in Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's government if he won. Labor Secretary-General Eitan Cabel, a Barak supporter, expressed confidence that he could persuade Peretz to endorse him. Cabel's brother Boaz is Peretz's political adviser.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who has made an effort to distance himself from the Labor race, called Peretz on Tuesday to congratulate him for his unexpectedly strong finish. Olmert praised Peretz for an "impressive achievement" that proved that he was "made of serious stuff."
Read it all.

So what is going to happen? My guess is:

1. Peretz will endorse Ayalon.

2. Ayalon will win the primary. He will join Olmert's government as defense minister (a position for which he is at least somewhat qualified) in place of Peretz. Peretz will make a fuss about wanting the finance ministry and will settle for some sort of enlarged social affairs ministry in place of Yitzchak Herzog. Herzog will be mollified with some lesser position. The Finance Ministry will go to Shimon Peres if he loses (yet again) the June 13 Presidential election (more on that another time). Otherwise, it will go to Meir Shitreet of Kadima Achora. An article in Monday's JPost that claimed that Netanyahu will take the Finance Ministry in a national unity government under Olmert is pure fantasy.

3. Ehud K. Olmert will laugh all the way to the bank (if he doesn't fall asleep first) - at least until the final Winograd report comes out in July or thereabouts. Once that report comes out, we will see whether Yisrael Beiteinu, Shas and (those within) Labor (who have presented some evidence of having principles - like Ophir Pines-Paz, Avishai Braverman and Shelly Yacimovich) stay in the government or have the courage to bring it down. I'm not holding my breath.

In summary, this is part of what Caroline Glick had to say about the Labor party primary. She got it right as usual:
Rather than relate to the threats that Israel faces, they showed Israel their faces. They preened before the Labor voters, regaling them with tales of their glory and wisdom. And then each assembled a star-studded array of retired generals and party intellectuals and reporters to tell us how wonderful each of them are and how shallow and corrupt all of the other candidates are.

They attributed the stature of strategy to bromides about their commitment to peace, and then spoke about how and at what price they will remain in Ehud Olmert's government.

THEIR WILLINGNESS to remain in the Olmert government was key. Because that was what this primary was all about: acquiring and preserving power - for the candidates, for the Labor party and for the Israeli Left as a whole. The underlying theme of the five-month long Labor primary was that power must be maintained at all costs. The party must remain in the government because more frightening than Iran or Syria or Hamas or Hizbullah is the specter of Knesset elections.

Those elections, the candidates, their spinmeisters and media comrades all agree must be avoided because everyone knows what elections will bring. Allowing the nation to determine its government will bring Likud and Binyamin Netanyahu to power. Allowing the nation to choose it leaders means allowing the nation to reject them.

The fact that today the sole idea around which the Labor party stands united is the need to prevent Likud and Netanyahu from gaining power makes it indistinguishable from the ruling Kadima candidates list. The lengths that Kadima is willing to go to remain in power were made clear in a little item in Haaretz last week.

THE NEWSPAPER'S political commentator Yossi Verter reported on a meeting that took place at the home of a rabbi in the south who has gained a following of politicians for his ability to predict the future. A cabinet minister from Kadima was present at the meeting where the rabbi predicted that a terrible war will break out within the next month to three months. The rabbi then consoled his guests by claiming that the war will save Olmert's government.

As Verter put it, "The minister left the meeting feeling at once pessimistic and optimistic: Pessimistic because there will be war, optimistic because according to the rabbi, war means survival, that is, Olmert is sitting pretty." And unfortunately, on at least one count, the rabbi is certainly right. The probability of war in the near future is high. The fact that this is the case screams out from every quarter.
Read the whole thing. And weep.


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