Analysis / Signs of life in Labor
The picture to symbolize the opening of the Knesset's winter session won't be Speaker Reuven Rivlin's praiseworthy scolding, nor the stormy heckling of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's speech.
The picture to symbolize the opening of the Knesset's winter session won't be Speaker Reuven Rivlin's praiseworthy scolding, nor the stormy heckling of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's speech. It certainly won't be the rabbinic courts crisis between Shinui and the NRP, which passed off unnoticed.
No - it will be something that didn't happen.
At the end of Sharon's speech, he left the podium and Shimon Peres went up to speak. The two passed within microns of one another and they didn't shake hands. There was not even a nod.
This was certainly no easy thing for Peres but yesterday, many months late, he decided to become leader of the opposition. The members of his faction joyfully gave their blessing to his decision. At the meeting of the faction, Haim Ramon urged Peres, "tell [Sharon] he's a failure, that he's hopeless."
Peres made do with telling Sharon he had "missed out." Faction chair Dalia Itzik begged Peres not to shake Sharon's hand at the unavoidable rendezvous near the podium. "This friendship locks you up," Itzik told him.
Peres, as noted, took heed. On his way to the podium on the ramp he stayed close to the right banister, as if he had been told Sharon had SARS.
And gestures were not enough for Peres. In his speech he retroactively adopted the Geneva Accord that he had attacked only the night before on television. "We will conduct meetings," he declared, with his hands waving bravely in the direction of the Likud benches. "We will fear no one. The right to seek peace is a basic right."
Sharon rambled on about Israel Railways, sent his best wishes to the security forces, let loose with vague promises that in the coming months there might be "a real chance to renew real progress."
The signs of life that the opposition showed yesterday will not change Israel's political and parliamentary realities. In this Knesset there is no government except the Likud government. If not Sharon, it will be someone from his faction. Journalists can report on "stormy sessions" until they or the participating MKs are blue in the face, but it's all make-believe.
If nothing dramatic and completely unexpected occurs, this Knesset will end its days more or less together with this government. If the National Religious Party bolts over the rabbinic courts, the government will continue to exist without any particular hardship. A compromise will probably be found to avoid the NRP's departure. Meanwhile, local elections are coming up, and it suits both factions to conduct them on the wings of a crisis.
Sharon has told his ministers that all will be well. Yesterday, as part of paying the NRP piper, he declared, "I am a Jew!" and added, "I will not let Judaism be harmed." As the interruptions of his speech grew more persistent Sharon turned to Speaker Rivlin and ended with, "they will have to keep this up for another four years."
Though the comment was not part of his prepared speech, neither was it an ad-lib - Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom had suggested that Sharon weave it in to restore a sense of proportion. But Sharon simply wanted to be precise - his term of office should end in four years and one week.
By the way, Ehud Barak's term as prime minister should have ended in a week's time - on October 28.