Peres: I’m Outa Here
As usual over the past month, yesterday had tons of fast-paced developments on the Israeli political scene. Peres made public the worst kept secret of Israeli politics–that he’s done with Labor and throwing in his lot with Sharon and Kadima. What I find interesting about Peres’ choice is that while all of Israeli politics has, in the past month, shifted left by a striking degree (Peretz’s Labor leadership victory and Sharon’s abandonment of Likud), Peres is the only one shifting right. To me it indicates that he himself has lost his bearings after his loss to Peretz and that a good portion of his decision is due to rancor toward the new leader. It’s always a shame to make long-term political decisions out of pique and personal hurt.
Peres explained his thinking at a press conference yesterday:
“I don’t believe that it is possible to push forward the peace process in the current political constellation [i.e. by staying in Labor],” Peres said. “I believe the most qualified person for this is Ariel Sharon.
“He will restart the peace process right after the election. I decided to join him and work with him. My party activities have concluded,” he added.
“…I am convinced that he is determined to continue the peace process. I was informed that he is open to creative ideas to attain peace and security. I have decided to support him in the elections and to cooperate with him in attaining these goals.”
“This is a difficult day for me in which I ask myself: What is the central issue standing before the state of Israel in the coming years and at present? I have no doubt that it is the unavoidable combination of peace and diplomatic advances. I ask myself how I can contribute in the coming years, and the answer is by advancing the peace process that will contribute to a thriving economy and social justice.”
“It was not easy but I made the choice and decided.”
You’ll note that Peres lauds Sharon for being “open to creative ideas to attain peace and security.” The only creative idea Sharon has had was Gaza disengagement. Now that it’s complete I see no significant new ideas coming from Sharon. The idea of withdrawing from outlying West Bank settlements, which is what Sharon says he’s willing to do does not fall into the “creative” category. From Peres, I see even less creativity.
Peres’ decision was lambasted by former Labor minister Ophir Paz-Pines, who said:
“Fabricated ideological stories of Shimon Peres are embarrassing and fake. There’s no doubt that no one will buy them. The Labor party is committed to peace more than every other party, and Peres’ attempt to excuse his abandonment by talking about peace is pathetic.”
“It’s too bad, because Peres did so much for the State, but he’ll be remembered as someone who abandoned the home which he lead for dozens of years for a party based on personal career interests. No one knows where it [Kadima] came from, and where it is going.”
Haaretz’s latest poll indicates that Peres may (note my reservations below) help Sharon significantly in pulling center-left votes toward Kadima:
Some 30 percent of Israelis said that the departure of former Labor chairman Shimon Peres from the party and his announcement that he was supporting Kadima would increase their chances of voting for the newly formed party headed by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
The survey…asked how Peres’ departure from Labor and his decision to join Kadima would influence respondents’ chances for voting for Sharon’s party. The findings are unequivocal: As of now, Peres is of prime value to Sharon.
I’m no pollster but that term “increase their chances” is vague enough to mean almost anything. I’d rather see them ask would Peres’ switch actually bring them to vote for Kadima. That’s a more solid, quantifiable question. So while the poll is a valid indicator of a positive effect for Sharon, I’m not sure it means all that Haaretz claims.
The poll also claims that 35% of those who voted Likud in the 2003 election and the same percentage of those who voted Labor “said that the Peres factor would increase their chances of voting for Kadima.” Again, note my objection above.
47% of respondents felt that Sharon was “most suited” to be prime minister while only 18% saw Peretz as most suited. Several things should be noted here. First, Israelis don’t vote for prime minister. They vote for parties. So a real test of a voter’s opinion would be to find out which party he supported. It’s less important to know which person he feels would make the best prime minister (though this is not an insignificant issue either). Second, as Sharon has been prime minister for some time and Peretz has been Labor leader for a very short time, I would expect such a gap between them. The key question will be whether Sharon can retain the voters approval in the face of a hard-fought Labor/Peretz campaign. Peretz is known for being a charismatic speaker and forceful personality, something Labor has been without for many years (most of them when led by Shimon Peres).
To all this should be added a Ynet poll which indicates that Kadima would win 34 seats if the election were held yesterday while Labor would win 27. Each party is up by one seat over last week’s poll. So if I were Peretz I wouldn’t despair and if I were Sharon I wouldn’t celebrate. There’s a lot of campaigning to be done between now and March 28th.
Yossi Sarid quits politics
It’s sad to note that one of Israel’s most prominent progressive politicians, Yossi Sarid, has decided to leave the Knesset and politics altogether. He was a former Labor MK and currently serves in the Meretz faction. I had great admiration for his courage and forthrightness in confronting the evils of the occupation.
Sarid appears to feel like someone with little influence in the current political situation:
“Had I known I was to become Education Minister in the next government, I would have had a reason to stay because of my commitment to education,” Sarid said. “Had I known I was to become Justice Minister in the next government to clean the filthy stables, I would have stayed,” he added.
“But being a realist, I know my chances are slim to none, and I have no need to break Guinness World Records like Shimon Peres. I am sick and tired of those who seize the horns of the altar,” Sarid concluded.
Note the zinger he gets in against Peres. He also gets in another dig against Sharon and a heap of praise for Peretz:
The former party leader lauded newly-elected Labor Chairman Amir Peretz, and said that “he already won his first victory by succeeding to shake the entire political system. People have started talking about humanistic values, instead of focusing only on the security situation and the Palestinians.”
“Sharon is an illusion, given the acts he has performed in the occupied territories and Jerusalem, and against the Bedouins and other minorities,” she said.
Likud in Free-Fall
Perhaps the biggest news is that Likud is rapidly fading into political oblivion (though reports of its demise would be premature at this point). Last week’s Dahaf poll showed them gaining 13 seats if the election had been held then. This week’s poll indicates they’d win 10 seats and fare even more poorly than Shas (the third largest party in today’s Knesset). The party is in deep trauma from which no amount of strategizing seems able to lift it.
As an example, party bigwigs met yesterday to discuss their election plans and their best effort produced this campaign slogan: ““Vote Sharon – get Peres.” I can’t begin to count the ways that this is a lame choice. First, it indicates that you don’t have your own program. You’re only against the other guy. It might work in some situations. But it won’t work in this one because Israelis realize this is a critical election in which their future is at stake regarding issues of war and peace with the Palestinians. They simply won’t settle for someone asking for a vote because he’s not the other guy.
Perhaps some of Peres’ motivation is sour grapes. But it also has always been the case that, despite being in different parties, Peres and Sharon have always been very good friends. Sharon probably trusts Peres more than he trusts anyone in his former Likud faction.
Also, Shas was not the 3rd largest party in the most recent Knesset. Shinui had 15 seats, Shas had 11.
Shas may end up being the the third largest after this election. Shinui is in big, big trouble and they know it. With Sharon grabbing the center, all Shinui has left is their base, i.e., people who can’t stand the ultra-orthodox. I have no doubt Shas will eclipse them.
More interesting is whether Shas can overtake Likud. Likud is in free fall. The main thing to see is if they can establish themselves as THE opposition party.
Richard Silverstein says
Thanks for correcting my mistake about Shas being 3rd largest.
I don’t see how Likud can establish themselves as a viable opposition. They’re so bitter, splintered & rudderless (at least now). Perhaps if some vibrant younger pol came along to lead them out of the wilderness they’ve wandered into…
Regarding yr comment about Sharon & Peres being chums–no doubt you’re right. But the idea that Shimon Peres can become bosom buddies with the Sharon who performed all those horrid crimes in Lebanon (not just Sabra & Chatilla, but the invasion itself) & the Sharon who spearheaded the miserable settlement enterprise which entrenched the Occupation so deeply that it can only be uprooted w. the utmost social trauma–this all indicates to me that Peres never had an ideological or principled position regarding anything. All was relative. I’m all in favor of politicians showing flexibility. But flexibility has to be used toward a principled end which in Peres’ case is a dubious proposition..
I see the Likud becoming an opposititon party because something has to arise in opposition. My assumption is that Kadima gets the most seats, Labor comes in a healthy second, and the two form a coalition with Labor as junior partner. But if that’s the case, then it will be very difficult for Labor to position itself as opposition in the next elections. What usually happens in “unity” governments is that the two parties work together for a while, then when the political timing is right, the other will “split” and try to make it an ideological difference that they can run for office on.
I don’t see Labor doing that effectively here. The coalition government will work toward some resolution, either through negotiations or unilateral action, and there will inevitably be some opposition to play on the natural discontents that occur in any democratic citizenry.
I am guessing that this will be Likud. Right now, the polls are showing that they will take a TREMENDOUS beating. They are down to 9 seats in the latest poll (one behind Shas). It could be that Likud gets so demolished that the can never recover. But (I think they’ll pick up more once they select their standard bearer, and will possibly align with the far right parties (NRP, Natiional Union).
This troubles me a little bit. One reason I would have liked Sharon to stay in Likud is that, while he led it, there was no “absolutist” opposition anymore. A smaller Likud, with far right allies, will mean that the opposition, even if small in the next Knesset, will regularly get heard if only because the media and others need to present “the other side.” So in the end, even a weaker Likud means that there can be a movement that gives credence to hardline opposition.
My guess is that Sharon has decided to go for broke. He has decided he WILL be the one that resolves the conflict, and he WILL do it in his next term because he’s getting very old.
As for Peres. I can say that despite his inability to win an election, there is no question that he has been a tireless peacemaker and is ideologicallty committed to that. While I have never really liked Sharon, I also think your portrayal of him is inaccurate. And I don’t think that Peres’ willingness to work with him signals a lack of commitment, although it does show a pragmatic side.
Finally, I will say that my views on these matters are closer to the Labor Party, and even that of Meretz (although they have struck me as arrogant blowhards the past few years). However, I do believe that it is only Sharon that has credibility with the Israeli citizenry to deliver a resolution to the conflict that will attract broad based support.