The Spare Tire Party

The Labor Party is irrelevant to the economy, and its political ideology is being carried out by the Likud. Are its days over?

The Labor Party is in trouble. In another two to three weeks the disengagement will be carried out, and Labor will be obligated to leave the government. After all, that's what it promised ceremoniously on the eve of joining the government: "We will join the government only in order to rescue the disengagement." But now, with a knife at its throat, even the thought of leaving is upsetting the ministers. Because how will Shimon Peres, Haim Ramon, Isaac Herzog, Dalia Itzik, Ophir Pines, Benjamin Ben Eliezer, Shalom Simhon and Matan Vilnai be able to give up the pleasures of government? Now that they are finally seated in the minister's armchair and enjoying their authority, with every senior and petty official coming on pilgrimages to them, and with their words being cited in the media - they should leave? What are you talking about, are they crazy?

It's enough to see them swooning with pleasure at the cabinet meetings, pleased with themselves. They feel that they are running the country, and that they are making the decisions - even though they don't have a single important position. Their ideology speaks of "influence from within," but their true influence is almost nonexistent.

If it were up to Peres and his friends, they would remain with the Likud not only until the elections in October 2006, but until the following elections, in October 2010. Because what's wrong with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon? Isn't he the last Mapainik? (Mapai was the forerunner of the Labor Party.) Isn't he carrying out the disengagement? Isn't he the likeable grandfather who takes care of the weak? Doesn't he agree to allow Peres to meet occasionally with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice?

Labor has long since lost its "killer instinct." It is not fighting for power. From its point of view, it's better to lose the next elections, on condition that it is guaranteed eight seats in the cabinet. It is happiest as a spare tire.

Labor will never do what the Likud did toward the end of 2000, when it brought down the government of Ehud Barak with full force, and with no holds barred. The Knesset Speaker, at the time MK Ruby Rivlin, said that he was even willing to sign a pact with the devil in order to take over the government, and the senior members of the party were not choosy about their methods, until they succeeded, by "divine right."

Were Labor in power today, and were Peres in charge of the disengagement, Sharon and Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert would be leading the struggle against him. They wouldn't dream of supporting him. They would skewer him daily in the media and at mass demonstrations, and would present him as a traitor, a collaborator and an Arab lover. And after succeeding in bringing down the government, they would carry out a similar plan - but from a position of leadership.

Labor has another problem. Its leaders have an outdated economic agenda, which is not suitable for our times. Even the young people among them seem to have been born old. When the cabinet discussed the 2006 budget (which will be brought for government approval a week from now), once again Peres, Ramon and Herzog proposed the archaic and mistaken formula: to increase government expenditure, and not to reduce taxes. They are still fixated on anachronistic Bolshevism, according to which the government has to do everything, because it knows better than the citizen what is good for him. That's why as many taxes as possible should be imposed on the citizen, so that the government will have as many resources as possible - and that is exactly the opposite of what is required. It is also exactly the opposite of the international trend, including countries with a social-democratic regime.

The Labor ministers are opposed to competition and privatization (except for Shalom Simhon, who expresses independent opinions), and if it depended on them, no economic reform passed in recent years would have passed. They are opposed to dividing the seaports, to reform in the pension funds and in the Israel Electric Corporation, to the transition from income supplements to work, to anything that smells of a free and sophisticated market.

Recently, Labor even tried to torpedo the plan to reduce tax on labor and companies, while raising the tax on capital, in addition to sealing up two significant cracks in the tax laws that allowed the top thousandth percentile to engage in illegitimate "tax planning." Is that not good, either? If it were up to them, the reform in banking and in the capital market would not have passed either, the banks would have kept the trust funds and the pension funds, the capital market would have remained weak and cartelistic, and the public would continue to pay and to suffer.

Fortunately, the Labor Party is irrelevant today when it comes to the economy. Its ministers mumble something in the cabinet, while all the reforms are approved and implemented. On the other hand, its political ideology has won out. After all, it wanted to disengage from the Palestinians - "them over there and us here," but when it was in a position to do something, it did nothing, it didn't withdraw, and now it is the moderate Likud - Sharon and Olmert - that is implementing this ideology. If that is the case, maybe the days of the Labor Party are over?