Labor Is Working on the Day After

The disengagement from Gaza and northern Samaria is a little over a month away. Very soon it will be behind us already, and the question of "the day after" promises to dominate the public agenda. In effect, "the day after" is already here. Reach out and touch it. It brings with it a great many questions, in every sphere, and very few answers.

In the next week or two, Labor chair Shimon Peres, intends to convene the forum of "our ministers" in order to begin discussion of the day after. Peres wants to do it in an orderly fashion: first "our ministers," then "our faction," then party headquarters, and then the central committee will be convened and will make a decision about the party's position regarding the continuation of the peace process. It sounds about as fascinating and exciting as the selection of the contestants on the Israeli reality show "A Star is Born," but history teaches that such sleepy processes, which take place far from the public eye, sometimes give rise to substantial crises.

That was the case in 2002, when the institutions of Labor voted, time after time, against the 2003 budget proposal, until in the end, Labor, under the leadership of Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, had no choice but to dismantle the national unity government, because of its opposition to the budget. At the time, the budget crisis was conducted in the shadow of the primaries for the Labor leadership among Amram Mitzna, Ben-Eliezer and Haim Ramon. Apparently the same will be the case this time.

Peres is running - of course - and as a candidate, it wouldn't hurt him to look as though he is implementing political steps. The other candidates are also beginning to deal with the day after. They are preparing a plan, consolidating teams, looking for statements. They don't want to be caught without a plan, when that day arrives.

This time around, there are two minefields: the budget, and the continuation of the peace process with the Palestinians. Peres, like Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, is going with the road map peace plan, with one difference: Sharon says that nothing will happen before the other side totally eradicates terror, violence and incitement. Peres thinks Israel should begin to implement various aspects of the road map, in order to spur the Palestinians to fight terror. Peres has an argument not only with Sharon but also with Haim Ramon, from his party, who is interested in "disengagement II in order to prevent Intifada III," as he puts it.

Ostensibly, there is potential here for a blow-up, but Peres and Ramon are not interested in dismantling the national unity government after the disengagement, each for his own reasons. Therefore, we can assume that to the extent that it depends on those two, the Mapai (forerunner of Labor) formulation that has never disappointed will be found. The question is to what extent it depends only on them.

Outside the government, there are forces in the Labor Party that will want to pull the ministers out. Ehud Barak, for example. Amir Peretz, for example. Barak and Peretz can still establish a joint axis that will support the dismantling of the government after the implementation of the disengagement, not only because of the political issue, but because of the budget as well. Anything is possible. Matan Vilnai is likely to join them. Of all the ministers, he has the least to lose by leaving the government.

At the moment, the cabinet vote on the 2006 budget proposal is set for August 7. At the moment, Labor is committed to voting against it. The budget will pass in the cabinet even without the support of the Labor ministers, but its submission to the Knesset for a first reading will have to wait until a majority is achieved. That will be another test of the relationship between Sharon and Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: If Sharon gives total backing to his finance minister, he will be signaling to the Labor Party that the romance between them is at an end. If Sharon stands behind the social welfare demands of Labor, Netanyahu will get the hint.

Last week, at the height of the "will he or won't he be dismissed" crisis between Sharon and Netanyahu, those surrounding the finance minister estimated that when the time comes, Sharon will go with Labor against Netanyahu. After all, Sharon also yearns to reconnect with the social-welfare components of his personality.

The politicians are planning not only for the day after, but for the hell before as well. Next week, Gush Katif is supposed to be closed off, which is liable to begin the great road-blocking campaign on Mondays and Wednesdays - according to the insolent and public declarations of the organizers of these blocks, who are being interviewed on every channel and photographed in every newspaper, as though they were cultural heroes.

The secretary general of Labor, MK Eitan Cabel, is not relying on the law or on the judicial system. He wants to give the average citizen, the driver on the road, the legal power to protect himself from the lawbreakers. Cabel is presently initiating the formation of a judicial team that will prepare and submit civil suits against the organizers of the traffic blocks, in the name of people who have been or will be harmed as a result of them.

Last week, Cabel met with attorney Gilad Sher, who headed the Prime Minister's Office under Ehud Barak, and who is now a partner in one of the largest law firms in the country, Aharonson, Sher, Abulafia, Amodai and partners, and asked him to prepare the legal foundation for this initiative. The idea is simple: Anyone who can prove they suffered damage because of the blocking of a road, for example, a business person who was late for an important meeting, a sick person who was late for a special medical examination, or a couple who were late for their wedding - will have a team of lawyers at their disposal, provided by the Labor Party. These lawyers will coordinate the material, the evidence and the testimony, and prepare financial suits against the organizers of the blockages. Not necessarily against the minors who are themselves engaged in this "holy work."

Sher's law firm is now in the process of examining all the legal aspects of this initiative, but MK Cabel is convinced it is possible, and he is already promoting it: He wants to set up a Web site and to publish an ad in the newspapers advising citizens what to do, whom to consult and what evidence to prepare, in case they fall victim to the road blockers.

Sharon's foreign legion

Last week, at the height of the Netanyahu crisis, Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin heard Sharon's two public relations experts, Eyal Arad and Lior Horev, being interviewed one after the other on the radio stations, and he was furious. Rivlin can't stand listening to these two being interviewed in the name of the prime minister, and preaching to senior members of the Likud. Whether the person under discussion is Benjamin Netanyahu, the hero of last week, who announced that he will be absent from the Knesset vote on the proposal to postpone the disengagement, or another wayward minister, or members of the Likud Central Committee - every time Rivlin hears this pair come on the air and unashamedly stick their noses into the business of the movement, he loses his sense of humor.

During his most recent meeting with Sharon, a few months ago, he told the prime minister there is a limit to everything. "If there is anything that this movement doesn't like, it's that you are sending mercenaries to the electronic media, to teach us how to behave," Rivlin told Sharon. "They are giving themselves free rein, preaching to us how to be better Likudniks, and when someone has to be slaughtered for your benefit, they are the first to do it."

Rivlin says Sharon promised him that he doesn't send them on any assassination assignments. "I'm willing to have anything said about me," he says today, "but it must be done within the family. If Sharon wants, let him send a minister, let him send a Knesset member from our movement, to confront those who think differently - or let him speak himself. Why not, that's perfectly all right. But let him stop using the foreign legion against us, against his political home, against his brothers. These are people who have absolutely nothing to do with the Likud. They receive salaries, and they don't stop telling us how to behave."

Arad, Horev's employer, doesn't understand what Rivlin wants from him. "We are not a foreign legion in the Likud," he says. "I've been a registered member of the Likud for 30 years, since the age of 17. I'm just as much a stranger to the Likud as Rivlin is a stranger to the Likud. As for Horev," says Arad, "as far as I know, he really isn't a member of the Likud."