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.