Anyone who thinks that 40 businessmen dubbed "economic leaders" are what will influence Benjamin Ben-Eliezer to vote for the budget and stay in the government doesn't know what being hungry for power is all about. Anyone who believes that Ariel Sharon's soft words and hinted promises to Ben-Eliezer are what will leave the unity government in place, doesn't know what it feels like to be fighting for your political life.
There's one thing that can change Ben-Eliezer's mind: a promise, backed by ironclad guarantees, that he'll beat Haim Ramon and Amram Mitzna on November 19 in the Labor primaries. Since nobody can make that promise, with those guarantees, Ben-Eliezer had no choice but to turn the tables, change the political reality, and suddenly join the opposition.
The minute Ben-Eliezer becomes the opposition leader, the party Central Committee and the voters in the primary will think of him as "the man." Nobody will be able to accuse him of "sticking to the chair." Nobody will be able to say he doesn't know how to make "courageous decisions." He won't be accused of not caring about the students, the single parent families and pensioners (who make up 35 percent of the Labor rank and file). And then, maybe, he'll have a chance against Ramon and Mitzna, and to lead the party in the coming elections.
When those are the calculations being made by Ben-Eliezer and his advisers, there's no point in trying to convince him otherwise. The dice have been thrown.
Ariel Sharon and Silvan Shalom also bear quite a bit of responsibility for the crisis, because if they had "surrendered" to Ben-Eliezer, and cut the settlement budget (for example, by eliminating some of the isolated settlements), and even moving all the money to the items on Labor's list, then Ben-Eliezer's position would have been dramatically improved. He could have then positioned himself as a winner, protector of the weak, dismantler of settlements, and then he'd be perceived differently in the primary race, and would have been ready to stay in the government and vote for an adjusted budget.
But Sharon didn't want to "surrender" to Ben-Eliezer. He didn't want to cut settlement funding because of his own personal political calculations regarding Benjamin Netanyahu. Sharon fears Netanyahu would exploit the "concession" and now that a significant number of Likud voters are settlers, Sharon decided that he wouldn't give into Ben-Eliezer.
Thus, personal politics and the hunger for power, led to the government's break-up. So what are the economic ramifications of the budget passing, but Labor quitting?
The minute the budget passes, with the votes of the right wing, the immediate threats about lowering Israel's international credit rating will disappear, as long as it turns out Sharon and Silvan can wrest a majority from the Knesset to pass the budget even if Labor votes against it.
But the fact Labor is quitting the government weakens it, and weakens Israel's position in the world. There won't be Shimon Peres around to moderate the criticism of Israel in Western capitals. With Sharon heading a narrow right-wing coalition, it will be difficult for the U.S. administration to provide loan guarantees, for example, making it difficult for Israel to raise money overseas. That will have a negative influence on interest rates and investments, and therefore on the recession and unemployment.
In other words, Labor's departure will immediately worsen Israel's economic situation, not to mention that Knesset Speaker Avraham Burg will try to foil the economic arrangements bill, and the chairman of the Knesset House Committee, MK Yossi Katz, like Burg, from Labor, will use his position to try torpedoing the second and third readings of the budget because Katz wants a compulsory pension law and Silvan Shalom opposes one. In other words, things aren't going to be getting better for some time to come.
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