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In a phone conversation from New York, on his way to the General Assembly of the United Jewish Organizations, in Cleveland, Ohio, Major General (res.) Uzi Dayan sounded very close to deciding to jump into political life. "It's clear the political clock is ticking, and it may bring my entry into politics," he says in his careful and measured style. "It depends what will develop and what will be effective. I'm considering it, and am certainly not ruling it out, on condition that it will promote the issues in which I believe.

"In the final analysis, there are two ways of wielding influence in Israel: education and politics," says Dayan. "At the moment, superfluous declarations are not to the point. Before making declarations, one has to prepare a complete agenda and consolidate a group of people."

In private conversations a few weeks ago, mainly with friends from the Labor Party (including former prime minister Ehud Barak), Dayan sounded more determined. In the past two years, since he left his position as chair of the National Security Council, Dayan has been involved in two issues: the separation fence and education. He has a chair for society and politics at Sapir College in the Negev; he initiated the Sderot Conference on Society; he established a youth organization; and of course, he heads the public movement for the construction of a security fence for Israel. All these preoccupations, as lofty as they may be, have to lead to something more practical. To politics, for example. Only there can one be of influence, and Dayan admits he wants to be of influence.

"If I join the political arena, it will be with a group of people, and with a clear agenda," he says. At this stage, he doesn't intend to join a specific party or to support a specific candidate in specific primaries. His connection to Ehud Barak, who is running for the leadership of the Labor Party, goes back decades. Dayan was Barak's candidate for chief of staff, a candidacy that disappeared the day Shaul Mofaz took over for Barak in the Defense Ministry. Those around Barak believe Dayan is on his way to Labor, and promise to help as much as possible.

If the forecasts prove correct, the next Labor faction will look like a forum of several generations of the general staff: Lieutenant General Ehud Barak, major generals Amram Mitzna, Matan Vilnai, Danny Yatom, Ami Ayalon and Uzi Dayan; and brigadier generals Benjamin Ben-Eliezer and Ephraim Sneh (all of whom are directed by Dalia Itzik). It's not a faction, complained one of the civilian MKs from Labor on the weekend, it's a junta.

Look at Dayan and look at Ami Ayalon. While Ayalon has managed to anger, and to some extent insult, all the MKs - and particularly those in the Labor Party, which he has marked as an objective to be conquered - when he declared (in an interview with the new monthly, Koteret) that he wasn't about to be "another MK," but rather a prime minister - Dayan is being very modest. "You need a certain degree of humility in these things," he says. "You don't come from outside to take over the controls. To start running things. I'll come to promote the issues I've mentioned, and I'll come with a group of people. This isn't a matter of individual saviors."

In a reply to the interviewer's question, Dayan wants to make something clear: When he speaks of the humility required of new politicians who are making their way into the system, he isn't referring to Ami Ayalon. Definitely not. It never entered his mind.

But the Labor Party read that interview and marked Ayalon. "Just what we need; another one who only wants to be prime minister," they said in Labor over the weekend, "without being an MK for a few years. A minister for a few years. A member of the opposition. A committee head. Without becoming familiar with the political system. We saw where that approach led [Finance Minister and former prime minister Benjamin] Netanyahu and Barak during their first terms, and they even spent some time in the political system before being elected prime minister. We saw where this approach led [former Labor chair] Amnon Lipkin-Shahak and the group of prime ministers that congregated in his ridiculous Center Party. What's amazing is that after all that there are still people, and they happen to be intelligent people, who haven't learned the lesson."

A journey through the time tunnel

Ehud Barak went back seven years this week. He located the offices of the nonprofit organization he registered, Barak for the Leadership of Israel, in the luxury office tower Beit Oz in Ramat Gan, on the same floor as the offices of his former brother-in-law, Navah's brother, attorney Doron Cohen. At least they're still together. In Beit Oz, Barak began his race for the leadership of the Labor Party and the premiership last time around. This is a temporary address until a new location is found. A real journey through the time tunnel. Again Barak. Again the mysterious Cohen. Again Beit Oz. Again Labor Party Chair Shimon Peres, trying to postpone the bad news.

A rare coinciding of interests between Barak and Benjamin Netanyahu was created this week. Both are determinedly working against the establishment of a national unity government. Barak is doing so within his party, in closed meetings with certain circles and sectors, and with the heads of groups and central activists. Netanyahu is released from the need to work among members of the Likud. He is investing tremendous effort in the Knesset, mainly in United Torah Judaism, to bring the faction to support both the budget and Sharon's minority coalition for the entire period of the winter session. Netanyahu believes that if he succeeds in harnessing the five Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) MKs to the coalition wagon, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon will give up on bringing in the Labor Party. It's not certain that Sharon sees things that way. Contradictory messages are coming from his circles. One associate whispers in the ears of Labor MKs that they'll be in the government very soon, Volvos and all. Another associate, who doesn't see much chance of the Likud adopting the move, prefers to keep juggling until all the balls fall to the ground.

Netanyahu believes it is possible to preserve the coalition - at least for the next six months - even without Peres and his friends. The finance minister is horrified at the thought of waking up one morning and finding himself in a government that clearly leans in the direction of diplomatic concessions, with Peres on one side, with five to six ministers, next to him Justice Minister Yosef (Tommy) Lapid with the five Shinui ministers, and in the middle the moderate Likud ministers, who support the prime minister - including Ehud Olmert, Tzipi Livni, Meir Sheetrit, Shaul Mofaz and Gideon Ezra. What is there for Netanyahu in such a cabinet?

Next week, on Sunday, the heads of the Likud institutions will finally be voting for the central committee, in secret balloting. This internal party process will ostensibly mark the end of the waiting period in the political system. If Sharon has his way, by means of the election of Tzachi Hanegbi as central committee chair, he will be able to enlist Hanegbi's assistance in passing a new decision in the central committee, enabling him to conduct negotiations with Labor. This is on the assumption that Sharon really is interested in doing so.

Likud and Labor are waiting for the end of the month. Then, things will become clearer. Dalia Itzik, chair of the Labor faction, is in a continuing state of confusion. On the one hand, she and her friends vowed not to bring down Sharon as long as he promotes the disengagement plan. On the other hand, the disengagement is supposed to be carried out next summer. "What will we do until then?" asks Itzik. "Not come to the Knesset? It's true we promised not to bring him down, but what about our identity in this whole story? What do they want, for us not to submit a vote of no-confidence for an entire year?"

Barak is not alone in hoping that Netanyahu will succeed in his efforts to get the Haredim to support the government. One Labor member says, not for attribution for the time being (for fear that, in the end, there will be a unity government), this is the best solution for the party: If the Haredim support the government, Labor will be able to continue to support the disengagement - and "isolate itself" from the Likud on a series of other issues, primarily socioeconomic ones; it will not become part of the cabinet - by doing so it could be destroyed entirely in the coming elections; and, no less important, Shinui will find itself in an embarrassing situation because the Haredim will not give their support without demanding a price.

Is that a way to talk, Shimon?

At the conclusion of the annual memorial service for prime minister Yitzhak Rabin in Tel Aviv's Rabin Square, Shimon Peres prepared to descend from the dais to his car. Next to him, as always, was Dalia Itzik. Peres, surrounded by dozens of security guards and policemen, politely suggested that Itzik precede him down the steps leading to the parking lot. "If they shoot, it's better if they hit you rather than me," he said to her. The security guards tried to suppress their laughter. Itzik was shocked. "What's this? Is that a way to talk?" she asked. "You always say I'm a gentleman," replied Peres, "I wanted to show you that sometimes I'm Israeli."