Labor's Leader in Israel Has Her Party Paralyzed

Shelly Yacimovich supports a two-state solution, and Benjamin Netanyahu will have Labor as a safety net if he can obtain one. That's all folks.

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Once the opening session of the Knesset was considered the best show in town. The subject of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict provoked debate, sometimes passionate, between the coalition and the opposition – think Menachem Begin versus Shimon Peres, Yitzhak Rabin versus Benjamin Netanyahu, Ehud Barak versus Ariel Sharon. You were sure to get a thriller, or at least a drama.

Now think about Netanyahu and Labor Party chief Shelly Yacimovich. What do you get? If like me you watched the speeches of the prime minister and the opposition leader at the start of the Knesset winter session, you could only conclude that Netanyahu’s savvy and Yacimovich's sharp tongue added up to one big zero.

Netanyahu was in his element – Iran’s nuclear program and the importance of not lifting the sanctions – with Yacimovich skipping along behind. Netanyahu ticking off conditions for an agreement with the Palestinians and Yacimovich’s jaw dropping.

“About the facts and about not allowing Iran to acquire nuclear weapons there is no dispute,” the opposition leader told the prime minister. “There is a dispute over the government’s strategy.” Then she added, barely pausing for a breath, “I disagree with you about Iran being an existential threat to the Jewish people and the Zionist enterprise. Why this apocalypse? We survived Pharaoh, the destruction of the first and second temples, Pharaoh, the Holocaust, the War of Independence and the Yom Kippur War. We’ll survive this as well.”

Wow! On the one hand Iran must not have nuclear weapons, on the other Iran does not pose a danger to the Zionist enterprise. To borrow from that song by Meir Ariel, we survived Yacimovich, we’ll survive this as well.

Yacimovich’s remarks on the negotiations with the Palestinians are simply embarrassing. It's as if she entered the negotiating room as Tzipi Livni’s spear carrier and took a vow of silence. But whereas Livni’s positions are known, you'd need 10 people on a scavenger hunt to figure out Yacimovich’s. You won’t hear a word from her about borders or dividing Jerusalem. And what would happen if the talks fail; would she support or oppose an Israeli withdrawal to unilaterally decided borders? Netanyahu has answers.

And interim arrangements and the evacuation of settlements? Why put sleeping dogs in a lion’s den? Labor MKs know the most to expect from Yacimovich: She supports a two-state solution, and Netanyahu will have Labor as a safety net if he can obtain one.

That’s the limit. The party’s institutions are paralyzed. The Knesset caucus isn't meeting to discuss the Palestinian issue. The MKs are all business: which bills to propose and how to vote. And whoever isn’t with Shelly is against her.

Party old-timers say the infighting is worse than during the Rabin-Peres era. “I won’t be the typical leftist, the yuppie who demonstrates against the occupation and who loves Arabs but hates Mizrahim,” freshman MK Yacimovich promised Haaretz's Ari Shavit back in 2006 – and she has kept her promise. It’s rare to hear her talking about peace, much less the occupation, God forbid. Also pushed aside is talk about Iran's leadership change or the international talks on its nuclear program.

Labor under Yacimovich looks like a party that has been treated for attention deficit disorder. The yuppie, Arab-loving leftists from Hatnuah and Meretz can focus on the Arabs. We in Labor will focus on the tycoons. That’s not the way to become prime minister.

Last week Yacimovich launched her Teva project. This time she was clear as a bell. Facts and figures, does and don’ts, the government’s failures and the owners’ chutzpah. Within 24 hours the chairman of the Histadrut labor federation, Ofer Eini, volleyed her serve straight into the court of the CEO and president of Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, Jeremy Levin, and an agreement was reached.

So why miss out on an excellent candidate and waste time? Shelly Yacimovich for Histadrut leader! It’s a perfect fit.

Yacimovich in front of a portrait of Yitzhak Rabin. Rabin was more interesting. Credit: Oren Nahshon

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