Pnina Rosenbloom's upcoming wedding and Princess Diana's revelations about her infrequent rolls in the hay with Prince Charles got bigger headlines in the afternoon papers than the reports that Labor will be reaching a decision today on whether or not to declare early elections for the party chairmanship. The issue at hand is whether to hold the primaries in November 2005, which suits Peres, or in April, which suits Ehud Barak.
The clash over these two dates is linked to the ego of the two chief operators in the Labor party today. The Peres date could allow him to join a unity government when the disengagement plan gets under way. The Barak date is based on the assumption that Sharon will never be able to implement the plan, and the country will be back at the polls within the first half of next year. We're so used to seeing Labor as a limp and flabby appendage that the standoff between these two seems like a lot of hot air, if not a pseudo-event, to use the term coined by American sociologist Daniel Boorstin.
Forget about it: Labor is not going to bring down the government. Sharon is the one who will decide, with his deeds and misdeeds, whether or not the government falls and the country goes to elections. Labor is not relevant today. It is not a candidate for government, and does not function as an opposition in any real sense of the word.
Fuad Ben Eliezer stymied a possible coalition with the Likud over socio-economic policy. But now that the Likud has cranked out 1.4 million poor, Labor is just dying to join the government. Waiting for the miracle to happen is what has kept it from opposing the government's rotten policies in the socio-economic sector. The fact that Sharon's real opposition, and the only force that can really unseat him, is sitting in his own backyard, is disconcerting no matter how you look at it.
What we can look forward to at the Labor convention today is what the party does best: an internal scramble for power. If the battle until now focused on Peres against the party and the party against Peres - although he is still doing nicely in the polls - Barak is poised to enter the ring. Unlike Netanyahu, who returned as a rank-and-file soldier hoping to grab the reins when the time is ripe, Barak sees himself once again as a savior sent down from heaven.
There are many people in the party and the media who are upset with Barak. He is accused of leaving the country in the middle of the intifada, and dumping Labor in its hour of need so he could go out to make money. Critics tend to emphasize his riches more than his ineptitude as prime minister, but there is no question that he was a miserable failure from start to shameful finish.
Full of himself and his IQ, he quarreled with everyone and humiliated those around him eagerly waiting for him to toss a bone. Aggressive, angry, vindictive and boastful, he never achieved any of the goals or timetables he set for himself. He allowed Sharon to visit the Temple Mount, inciting the intifada - the longest and cruelest war Israel has ever known. So what if he pulled off Arafat's mask? What good did that do us?
Like Netanyahu, Barak says he has learned from his mistakes as prime minister and compares himself to Rabin, who returned to power after a first term that ended badly. The difference is that Rabin didn't run off. He stayed in the party. He fought from the inside. He served his party and came back as prime minister only 15 years later.
Barak will be playing the lead in the convention today. He is banking on the idea that Peres' time is up. He will try to market the theory that he is the answer to the voter of the future, that he fits the bill for contender against the Likud. The Labor party has produced a meager selection of leaders, and the quality is poor. Barak is offering himself as an alternative to them all. Whether he'll succeed or not is anyone's guess. Certainly no one is going to roll out the red carpet.
I don't know if Barak has changed, or whether Labor will be relevant at all in the coming years. But what I don't hold against him is the fact that while we were sitting here shedding blood, sweat and tears, he was out there making a pile of money. What's wrong with that? At least he won't need a Greek island or the likes of Cyril Kern to get elected.
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