Guide for an Honest Dove

A foreigner listening to "Labor doves" criticizing the brutal operation in Rafah would not have believed that Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, presumably the chief of staff's boss, is the chairman of their party.

"A sad and wounded peace camp is very human," writes Yossi Beilin toward the end of his book Guide for a Wounded Dove, then continues, "but frustration is a luxury ill-afforded by those who seek to lead." Indeed, the intifada and subsequent election defeat have not dissuaded Beilin. Along with a handful of other "doves" from the Labor Party, including Knesset Speaker Avraham Burg (who recently returned to the nest), Beilin is trying to lead Israel back to the road to peace. They negotiate with Nabil Sha'ath and sign a statement of intentions with Sa'eb Erakat. And in between, as if they were members of an opposition party, they adopt the luxury of speaking out on the radio against the policies destroying both peace and houses.

A foreigner listening to "Labor doves" criticizing the brutal operation in Rafah would not have believed that Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, presumably the chief of staff's boss, is the chairman of their party. As for their continued membership in the party, it's possible to say about Beilin, Burg, Yael Dayan, Colette Avital and the rest what Beilin said about Ben-Eliezer's victory in the Labor Party race for chairman: "Legal, but not legitimate." It is morally bankrupt for them to remain members of institutions in a party that legitimizes a deed so dastardly that even the head of the civil administration in the West Bank said he was ashamed of it.

In advance of the party's Central Committee meeting this Thursday, the country has been plastered with posters paid for by "the campaign to leave the government." But even that campaign's leaders find it difficult to adopt a modicum of optimism about their initiative's chances. It's about as likely that the ministers will give up the perks of power as it is that Foreign Minister Shimon Peres will admit at the committee meeting that it was a mistake in the first place to join Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's government. Peres presumably won't tell the party that the government has never approved the Mitchell plan. And the "people's leader" won't report how Sharon and Chief of Staff Shaul Mofaz sometimes get his approval for extreme action against the Palestinians and sometimes don't even bother asking him.

It's doubtful that party secretary-general Ra'anan Cohen will use Thursday's meeting to report to the membership on the data showing that the party has finally lost its grasp on the unions, which are now tilting toward Amir Peretz. That's the price a workers' party pays when it turns down the Finance Ministry, all social affairs ministries and the Education Ministry. Presumably, they also won't hear that internal party surveys show that they've already lost the Arab vote and the Jewish left, while there's continuing erosion of support for the party among immigrants from the former Soviet Union.

Instead, it's easy to guess that Peres will calm the rank-and-file with promises that Sharon is still committed to the peace process and isn't interfering with Peres' meetings with Abu Ala. Ben-Eliezer will most certainly talk about the need for unity in the face of Palestinian threats and will praise the heroic security forces. To saw off the branch where the "doves" are roosting, the new chairman already announced he plans, in any case, to quit the government some time this year. Therefore, the question isn't what Fuad and Peres will do on Thursday, when the committee meets, or even what happens at the meeting itself. The question is what Beilin and Burg will do on Friday, after the party decides to continue supporting the Sharon-Lieberman-Elon-Landau-Livnat-Hanegbi government.

Will they remain inside the Likud clone, which is rapidly losing its stature as an alternative ruling party, or will they openly join the growing initiative to create a new social-democratic peace movement that would unite Labor's refugees with Meretz, One Nation and the Democratic Choice headed by Roman Bronfman?

Belonging to the coalition and behaving like the opposition does not contribute to the integrity of the "doves" nor to Israeli political culture. You can't appear alongside Sari Nusseibeh in the morning to protest against the occupation and settlements, and in the evening take part in a meeting of the party's ministers, alongside people who are responsible for the implementation of those policies. Yossi Sarid, the Meretz leader, had it right when he said at one of the Peace Coalition meetings that the leadership of a party that belongs to a government is also responsible for the policies of that government.