Monday, May 28, 2007

Today the members of Israel's Labor Party choose the party's leader. Three generals, a captain and a staff sergeant ( whose father is Dutch and who has my sympathy, if only for the fact that he is the only one who has proven that principles are more important than impotent power ), who will it be? According to opinion polls the two leading candidates are Ami Ayalon and Ehud Barak. If neither of them ( or Amir Peretz, who could suprise us ) obtains 40% or more of the votes there will be a second round. I am not entirely sure which of the candidates is the worthiest ( don't deduce my preferences from the size of the pictures below ), although I think that Mr Peretz has become by far the most unreliable of the bunch, which is quite an achievement when you are in the company of four other politicians. Amir Peretz was elected as head of the party largely because he stressed the importance of socio-economic issues that plague the country and that are much more dangerous than Hamas or Hezbollah. Peretz' defeating Shimon Peres appeared to renew the Labor Party, and hopes were high for an interesting and encouraging election campaign. Even I became optimistic for a moment or two ( see here and here ). When after the elections - the outcome of which had more to do with the sad condition of Ariel Sharon than with the qualities of most candidates - Labor entered the coalition Amir Peretz shed off all his concerns for the poor and the weak and insisted on taking up the post of defense minister, in spite of his lack of experience in dealing with security-related matters on such a high level. While Israel's poor performance during last year's war in Lebanon and Northern Israel is not only his fault, of course, it is clear that he does bear responsibility for the army's failures. Partly because of Peretz' pride and ego - he should have allowed one of the more experienced military leaders within his party to become defense minister and concentrate on the issues that he knows a lot about - the social agenda has disappeared from national politics. Therefore when today he tries again to convince party members that only he will be able to take care of that agenda he sounds totally ridiculous and untrustworthy.

The party's priority should be to make up some kind of consistent and comprehensive vision that tells us what it believes our future should look like. Such a vision should not only focus on security. Barak's claim that he will be the best national leader in times of war is symptomatic for Israeli political thinking. I am not an optimist at all, we are and in the foreseeable future will remain at war and we do need a Prime Minister with military experience, experience that both Ayalon and Barak have, but for once I would like to hear how a would-be PM envisions peace. I do not want a leader whose justification for everything he does and does not do is the perpetual state of war.

The state in which Labor finds itself today and the ways in which its members fight each other are proof of what I have said on more than one occasion: Israel's main problem is not so much the fact that the country's PM has no leadership qualities, but rather the lack of any credible and convincing alternatives who have both vision and the popular support to implement it.

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