Wednesday, June 13, 2007
Peres and Barak - the New Mukhtars
With car bombs going off in Lebanon and civil war raging in Gaza, it might seem trivial to focus on Israeli domestic politics. But unless they are on location (Gaza, Nejmeh) , bloggers are not especially useful for providing breaking news updates.
It turns out that Shimon Peres has won the presidency, and in a fairly convincing fashion, garnering 58 votes in the first round (there are 120 legislators in the parliament). As I have said before, this is a stabilizing factor for the Olmert government. One of his first moves - a visit to the Kotel - hard to separate from the support given to him by Shas. His stated goal: to unify Israeli society. The models that he singled out are his now deceased colleagues: David Ben Gurion, Yitzhak Rabin, and Ariel Sharon (Ha'aretz). Peres, the grandfather of Israeli politics, the last man of his generation.
Meanwhile, Ehud Barak defeated Ami Ayalon in the race to head the Labor Party. In retrospect, it is clear that Ayalon's late compromises - joining up with Peretz, reneging on his promise to quit the government if elected - hurt him badly, especially on the kibbutzim. The Arab votes that Ghaleb Majadale was supposed to collect did not materialize (he was defeated by Fuad), and Peretz's machine in the periphery was obviously not enough.
By and large, this election shows Labor Party members' rejection of Peretz, and the privileging of an effective defense policy over promises of social change. Or at least it is clear that Labor Party members do not trust Peretz enough to implement such a policy anyway.
The question now is not whether Barak will stay in the government but on what conditions. He is in a much better position to dictate terms than Ayalon would have been. Ayalon had obligated himself to appoint Avishai Braverman (who will, once again, be receiving the short end of the stick) as Minister of the Treasury, and he would have had to make concessions to Peretz. Barak has fewer commitments, and he is in a superior position to fire people. Shelly Yehimovich, who picked the winner, might end up with an appointment - perhaps the Education Ministry is even in her reach, as Yuli Tamir is on bad terms with Barak.