One moment Amir Peretz was negotiating with the Israeli rightist parties to form an odd left-right coalition in which he would be prime minister and the next he was shaking hands with Ehud Olmert, who called Labor his “senior partner” in the forthcoming Kadima-led coalition. One minute anonymous Kadima sources are whispering that Peretz is a light-weight not worthy of national leadership and the next they’re reportedly offering him the Defence portfolio. If your head’s spinning then welcome to the altered reality of Israeli politics where almost everything imaginable can happen and often does (and a few unimaginable things too).
Peretz reportedly really wanted the Finance portfolio to ensure he could execute his economic agenda guaranteeing an increased minimum wage and other policies to help those at or below the poverty line. But Kadima leaders are balking at entrusting the Israeli economy to a man with such “radical” views. I wonder why, though, they feel more comfortable offering him Defense. After all, his ideas about Israel’s military policy are probably no less unorthodox (at least compared to those of the political elite). Does Kadima expect that the sheer size and ocean liner inertia of the defense establishment will overmatch Peretz? If he is offered Defense and takes it, it will be interesting to see whether the military industrial complex bests him or the other way around. It’d be nice to think that Peretz may be able to put a lid on some of the worst excesses of the IDF and security services in their treatment of the Palestinians.
The other distressing factor in coalition negotiations is Olmert’s announcement during his joint press conference with Peretz that Avigdor Lieberman and Yisrael Beitenu are to be partners in the coalition. Lieberman is the politician who hatched the harebrained scheme to transfer sovereignty over hundreds of thousands of Arab Israelis to the PA in order to ensure somehow the continued demographic preponderance of Jews in Israeli society. Menachem Klein has derided this “plan” as lunacy and a sham, saying that at most 200,000 Israeli Arabs might live close enough to the Green Line to be eligible for “transfer.” Klein notes that this is barely more than the 150,000 East Jerusalem Palestinians whose homes have been annexed by Israel, but who have not been given Israeli citizenship or the right to vote. Presumably, if Israel refuses to return this territory to the PA, then these Palestinians will have to be given some form of Israeli citizenship and voting rights.
If I recall correctly, Lieberman is one of the ministers from Sharon’s cabinet who resigned rather than support the Gaza withdrawal. One wonders how he will react to the far more substantial planned West Bank withdrawal. In fact, an unnamed Labor source predicts in Haaretz that Lieberman will resign as soon as the “convergence plan” is implemented dragging the religious parties in the coalition with him. Or perhaps Lieberman believes he can enter government and modify and stall withdrawal? That wouldn’t be promising for Olmert. Another matter which should be worrying for Peretz is that the latter’s dovish views of the Israeli-Palestinians conflict will be in direct conflict with Lieberman’s hard right views. How can the two co-exist in the same cabinet?? Indeed, perhaps Olmert has engineered this deliberately hoping to muzzle Peretz’s efforts to promote Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.
I don’t see the Lieberman addition to the government as promising at all. It will just lead to more stasis on the Israeli-Palestinian front. We should expect no positive development in relations between the two peoples as long as Lieberman can put in his two cents at the highest political level. For the life of me I can’t understand why Olmert isn’t going for an alternative, and much more stable option: Kadima, Labor, Meretz, Pensioners and Shas for well over 70 seats. My guess is that Olmert worries that this coalition would be much more heavily weighted toward the left and he may not feel comfortable taking his government in this direction. After all, it would give Peretz much more room to lobby for strong action toward negotiations with the Palestinians. This must be something that Olmert is loathe to do. Hence the coalition he’s now proposing.