Analysis / Peretz Comes to the Rescue

Israeli democracy was rescued yesterday. Had it been up to Shimon Peres, Haim Ramon, Dalia Itzik and Ophir Pines-Paz, they would have remained with Ariel Sharon not only until November 2006, but also through November 2010 - were he to throw them only a bone or two.

But now, it's a whole new ball game: Labor will leave the government and become a fighting opposition; the elections will be brought forward; and the voter will be faced with two clear alternatives - as befits a thriving democracy.

And we haven't earned merely the resurrection of democracy. The election of Amir Peretz as Labor Party chairman has prevented a year of political inertia on the Palestinian front, mutual threats, targeted killings and terror attacks. It also has put to rest lengthy election economics and the distribution of treats to voters.

Sharon understood immediately that the die has been cast. At yesterday's Conference for Export and International Cooperation, the prime minister hardly said a word about exports, but declared, no less, "war on the dimensions of poverty."

Peretz turned yesterday's victory speech into his first election campaign address. He spoke of eradicating the ethnic demon, dealing with social gaps, and his longing for peace. He also didn't hesitate to call on Likud voters to cast their ballots for Labor.

Election season opened in full force yesterday. And in the morning, the capital market responded in fear - falls in share prices and a rise in the dollar-shekel exchange rate. A few hours later, however, the drop in the share prices slowed, and the dollar hardly moved. Because no one is quite sure where Peretz is headed. Will he implement his pre-primaries economic beliefs?

For years, Peretz was a faithful and consistent representative of old-world socialism, of the 19th-century class wars. He was a believer in a centralized economy, a large government and a nationalized economy. Nevertheless, the optimistic scenario says that when Peretz begins to sense the full weight of the responsibility that rests on his shoulders, and when he is no longer dependent on the large workers' committees, he will adapt his beliefs to reality. Only an ass never changes its mind, as Moshe Dayan used to say.