Hallelujah, Labor Saved Us!

The citizens of Israel are breathing a little easier today; the country has been saved, and Benjamin Ben-Eliezer and Isaac Herzog will continue serving as cabinet ministers.

The unemployed and the future unemployed can jump with joy; their jobs are secure. Their factories will not be closed. The global financial crisis has been stemmed. Ehud Barak & Co. will do that which trillions of dollars failed to do in the United States. After all, at least six or seven people have just been saved the indignity of the unemployment lines. They can now rest easy as they settle in to posts as ministers, deputy ministers and heads of Knesset committees.

A visitor from a different planet who had landed yesterday at the Labor Party convention in Tel Aviv would have thought that the Laborites had just won an overwhelming victory at the polls. The pathos, the self-importance and pompousness that characterize those who support joining the Netanyahu coalition sometimes sounded completely cut off from reality. The fate of the country, one would think from listening to the party leaders, depends on them, and only them. These four or five ministers out of 22 or 23 will make all the difference. The deal they made is "unprecedented," a "historic agreement." And it was reached in 24 hours! Imagine what they would have been able to get if they had had a week? Perhaps Benjamin Netanyahu would have given them the premiership.

The speaker who hit the nail on the head best was Laborite Motti Sasson. "Think about the country," he called out to the party members. "The country comes first, and the country is Ehud Barak as defense minister." Barak straightened in his chair and pursed his lips, trying to look important. He liked that.

Last night's gathering was more raucous than normal, and this was no surprise in view of the matter at hand.

"The party lives," one of the more veteran party members boasted. One of his friends had a more negative view: "This is the pre-death palpitation," he countered.

It is hard to foresee the future, as Shimon Peres has said in the past, but most of those present, including those who supported joining the coalition with Netanyahu, Avigdor Lieberman and Eli Yishai, figured that this is the end of Labor as we know it; it is on its way to becoming a secular National Religious Party. Six seats in the next parliamentary elections, then three, and then - by then, who really cares?

Netanyahu certainly does not care. He and his commander in the army competed their mission successfully yesterday, granting both of them renewed life in politics. Netanyahu escaped the threat of a narrow right-wing government by the skin of his teeth. With Barak as defense minister he will be treated better by foreign leaders like Barack Obama, Gordon Brown and Angela Merkel, at least at the start.

Netanyahu can sleep quietly knowing that in its debilitated state, Labor will not be quick to leave the coalition. Barak and his colleagues will be the ones who turn off the lights in this government because they will be the last to leave. Barring the unexpected, Netanyahu will present his government to the Knesset on Monday.