Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

10 Ellul 5761 - August 29, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Opinion & Comment
Politica: Same Old Barak

by E. Rauchberger

Seven months after his landslide election defeat, Barak has begun to come out of hiding. He has been delivering speeches to political forums and granting interviews--so far only to the foreign press, but an interview with a local newspaper is just a matter of time. Either Barak is indulging feelings of nostalgia, or else he is laying the groundwork for a political comeback.

The Central Kibbutz Movement is furious with Barak for taking advantage of the spotlight they placed on him to voice his support for Defense Minister Binyamin Ben Eliezer in the race for leadership of the Labor Party, and claimed that he violated the agreement they made with him not to mention the internal Labor Party elections in his speech.

The Central Kibbutz Movement expressed its support for Avraham Burg several weeks ago already, and its members have been enlisted to help him. Members of the organization comprise one of the largest voting blocks within the Labor Party. The Central Kibbutz Movement, whose members are highly disciplined and generally post a high turnout rate, is expected to have a tremendous influence on the internal elections, so from Burg's perspective it represents a critical support group.

Ben Eliezer--who is well aware of the power the Kibbutz Movement wields and the major impact its members could have on the election results--could not have found a better card to play than former prime minister, Ehud Barak, who is still held in high regard within the Kibbutz Movement. According to the Kibbutz Movement, in order to assist Ben Eliezer, and perhaps even more in order to harm his great political rival Avraham Burg, Barak broke an agreement between the two sides.

Likewise, his criticism of meetings held with Yasser Arafat is also based in part on political considerations and probably should not be taken too seriously. Had Barak won the last elections and were now prime minister, he would have jumped at the first opportunity to meet with Arafat. Barak, the prime minister who offered Arafat the most generous, far-reaching deal ever, should be the last person to lodge criticism against meeting with Arafat. He tried with all his might to reach an agreement with Arafat up until his last days in office when it was already clear that he was heading for a sound defeat. The Intifadah was already in full swing at the time, but Barak pressed forward. For him to condemn talks under fire borders on the absurd.

Apparently Barak's remarks were actually made because of the person slated to meet with Arafat: Shimon Peres. The rivalry between Peres and Barak is well-known.

Returning from Nowhere

When David Levy resigned his post as foreign minister under Binyamin Netanyahu, he compared the government to a plane flying to nowhere. The Center Party is also like a party without a destination: the party had no future and its members had no future. Then along comes Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and grants these Center Party members the grand prize, bringing them back into the limelight from nowhere.

Dan Meridor and Roni Milo, formerly high-ranking ministers in the Likud government who even announced their intentions to run for prime minister at one point, had become minor figures in the present Knesset. In the opposition they had little clout and made infrequent appearances in the Knesset.

Now Sharon, who already salvaged Meridor's political career once before at the beginning of the Netanyahu government, is about to save his career once again. He has assigned Meridor and Milo to ministerial posts and propelled them into a central and influential position in the political establishment. Meridor will be in charge of the Atomic Energy Commission, the GSS and the Mossad, and will become a member of the security cabinet, certainly returning him to the limelight and bringing his name back into the headlines.

Sharon was probably inspired to make the appointment not out of a love for Meridor, but more out of a lack of love for Netanyahu. Sharon's big, long-range plan is to bring Meridor, Milo and David Magen back to the Likud. All three of them are long-standing Netanyahu arch rivals, and these appointments would buttress Sharon's position in the showdown against the former Prime Minister predicted to take place during the next Likud elections for party chairman.

This move will help Sharon more immediately. With the five Center Party MKs in the government he has an alternative to Labor, thereby reducing Labor's clout right away by making it obvious that the government would not fall even if Labor leaves. If Labor goes, they will just languish in the barren desert of opposition without new elections.

Sharon knows that after the Labor Party elections are held next week, if Avraham Burg is chosen, there is a slight chance that the new Labor chairman will try to withdraw his party from the government, since Burg has no ministerial post. Both in terms of votes within the Knesset and in terms of his public profile, including the Center Party would allow his government to maintain a moderate image if the Labor Party resigns. Meridor and Milo are definitely enough to secure the Left without Labor.

Hirsheson in the Lead

Knesset Chairman Avraham Burg may well be Labor Party Chairman and the party's candidate for prime minister in about two weeks, if Burg defeats Defense Minister Binyamin Ben Eliezer in the Labor party primaries.

If he wins, Burg will have to relinquish his position as Speaker of the Knesset. It is impossible to head a political party and to provide an alternative to the present Likud government while occupying a post that requires "royal" conduct above petty politics and precludes him from engaging in the type of political involvement demanded of a party chairman.

The battle to replace Burg as Knesset chairman has already commenced. Presumably the post will be given to a Likud member, based on the Knesset tradition of nominating an MK from the Prime Minister's party. Today, Sharon and Burg are not from the same party, but this stems from the fact that prime minister elections were held in the middle of the term and a prime minister from a different party took office. No one wanted to replace the Knesset chairman, whose work earned him the sympathy and support of a majority of the Knesset, from left and right, from the religious and the non- religious.

But now, chances are that the Knesset will return to its past traditions. Still, the Labor Party might refuse to give up the coveted post without a fight and might seek to install one of its own. Shochat, for instance.

In any case, three Likud MKs are vying for the job: Michael Eitan, Yehoshua Matza and Avraham Hirsheson. Matza supporters claim that Ariel Sharon is backing him, but Sharon, always a very sober-minded politician, is more likely to go with the candidate with the best chances of winning to avoid ending up on the losing side. Of the three Avraham Hirsheson is believed to have the best chance.

Hirsheson would be acceptable to Likud Party members and to members of other parties from both the Right and the Left. He is also accepted by religious and chareidi MKs. These MKs know that with every religious issue that comes up, whether in a plenum or in a Finance Committee meeting (where he is a veteran) they know that they can count on Hirsheson's vote unequivocally. "He has a real Jewish heart," religious MKs say of him.

Hirsheson is also considered to be a reasonable, moderate and measured MK who doesn't start fights. A thinking man. The other two candidates, however, are known for their loud voices and the tumult they have caused, on occasion, during Knesset plenums.

Michael Eitan's candidacy is widely opposed among the religious parties due to his stances and past activities in various religious issues. Yehoshua Matza is also likely to encounter many opponents, particularly among left-wing parties, and it is difficult to see how a consensus could form for his candidacy.

Hirsheson is the only one among the three who is capable of forging a consensus for himself, and in the unity government, a candidate who can garner broad support automatically becomes the leading candidate. He does not threaten anyone and he is capable of simultaneously winning the confidence of Yossi Sarid of the Left and Michael Kleiner of the Right. This is what has transformed him into the leading candidate.

According to Likud regulations the Knesset chairman candidate is nominated by a secret ballot so that anything could happen, but party members can be counted on to take into account the preferences of other parties, and would like to select the candidate who can win the largest number of votes in the Knesset and the confidence of a majority of MKs.

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