Ostensibly the Labor primary is a sad story of a glorious party whose future is behind it. In the most recent elections in 2009, Labor came in fourth place with 13 seats, under 10 percent of the valid votes. So what do we care if Shelly Yachimovich beats Amir Peretz? What influence will Isaac Herzog's victory or Amram Mitzna's defeat have on our children's future? What chance does such a marginal party have of picking itself up and recapturing power?
Ask Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Only five years ago, in the elections for the previous Knesset, Likud under his leadership plummeted to fourth place with 12 seats. Labor, headed by Peretz, won 19 seats and joined the Kadima government as a major partner.
The right did not return to government thanks to its socioeconomic platform, and the left will not be dragged there only on the waves of the socioeconomic protest. The international economic crisis, the opening of the academic year, the winter rains or simple fatigue are liable to take the wind out of the sails of the tent protest movement.
And if the wave refuses to pass, the government and coalition have various ways of "benefiting the people." These include transferring billions of shekels from one budget clause to another, reducing indirect taxes, raising taxes for the top percentile and increasing the deficit. These things have already been done in the past during Likud governments - it was called "election economics." What does the opposition have to offer the homeless and the consumers of cottage cheese? That's right: speeches and promises.
Meanwhile, ideology and politics are limiting Netanyahu's room to maneuver to the point of paralysis. There's no magician who can keep in the air the ball of the settlements and the ball of the two-state solution, the division of Jerusalem and Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin, the land-swap agreement (without a population swap ) and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.
The collapse of relations with Turkey, the tensions with Egypt and Israel's expected isolation after the recognition of a Palestinian state are a down payment against the price of the government's policy of perpetuating the occupation. On a good day Kadima, the main opposition party, is raising the banner of peace to half-mast. It's enough to mention the support by many of its members for bills including the Boycott Law, the investigation of the funding sources of left-wing nonprofit organizations, a referendum on returning territories, the Nakba Law and the law on Israel being the nation-state of the Jewish people.
Daphni Leef and Itzik Shmuli proved that civil society is capable of chalking up achievements even without the help of professional politicians. Unfortunately, as Yachimovich said, the government's diplomatic failures and the protest against the occupation's injustices get few people out onto the streets. In a discussion around one of the "1,000 tables" Saturday night outside the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, I discovered that most participants strongly rejected any attempt to flavor the social welfare discourse with another agenda. If the spirit of the discussion is typical of the mood in Labor, Yachimovich will be the party's next leader. We have to hope she has the wisdom to file away the interview with Haaretz in the archives, along with her flattering of the settlers.
The main challenge awaiting Labor's new leader is to recruit the tremendous energies that erupted over the summer to change Israel's diplomatic and security agenda. All of Israel's political camps must be harnessed for a regional peace initiative - a response to the Arab peace initiative of 2002, which was aimed not only at the Israeli government but at all society.
The Labor Party must welcome the UN recognition of a Palestinian state and begin a dialogue with its leaders on models for a final-status agreement. Having offloaded Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Labor can show the world, and especially our Arab neighbors, that there is an Israeli partner for peace. Who said that only President Shimon Peres is allowed to present Israel's positive side? Who said that only Likud can make a comeback?
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