The scenes at the Tel Aviv Exhibition Grounds today may feel familiar. For a decade the Labor Party has repeatedly crawled into every conceivable government under any prime minister.
From one election to the next, the party has weakened, its values have faded, and its leaders have fallen like ducks in a shooting gallery. All that remains is the greed for power at any price.
"Opposition" has become a four-letter word, "soul searching" is a joke. This party has lost 31 Knesset seats in 17 years and has never stopped to ask itself what went wrong.
Decades ago the Herut movement adopted a line from Zeev Jabotinsky's poem - "God, you have chosen us to rule." The movement was derided for this slogan but its leaders, including the present one, knew how to banish themselves to opposition wilderness until the voter, not God, renewed his confidence in them.
Labor doesn't believe in God, and believes even less in the voter. Since November 2005, when Peres, Itzik and Ramon quit and left for Kadima with hundreds of activists and mayors, Labor hasn't been so close to a split.
The confrontation expected at the party's convention today - unless it is canceled for some reason, is over the party's soul. Even before the decision, two factions have formed in Labor - Barak and his objectors. If the convention adopts Barak's proposal to join the Netanyahu-Lieberman-Yishai government, this split will become a fait accompli. Neither Barak nor Netanyahu care. The first will take whoever he can and join a government he won't even be a sub-contractor in, for a fistful of portfolios. Netanyahu doesn't care because he desperately needs public and especially world legitimization vis-a-vis U.S. President Barack Obama, who is preparing a peace-process initiative by this summer.
Barak, who went further toward the Palestinians than any other Israeli leader, will be Bibi's flak jacket. This is why Netanyahu will make do with nine, even six Labor MKs, as long as Barak leads them.
Barak will come to the convention in the same mood Ariel Sharon was in on the eve of the Likud split. He's fed up with his party, its functionaries and institutions. He promised weakly to remain in the party even if he loses, but nobody believes him any more. On his way to Netanyahu's government, he hasn't missed a lie or skipped a broken promise.
For Barak, this may be the most important party debate in his political life. As far as he is concerned, it's to be or not to be. If he wins tonight, he will serve as defense minister in Netanyahu's cabinet and hope for a political comeback (perhaps after an operation in Iran?). If he loses he will have to decide rapidly whether to defect, together with three or four MKs, to the government; retire and go home; or stay, like a lame duck, in a party that will eject him the very first chance it gets.
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