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Welcome Back the Labor Party

11 September 2003

By Yisrael Ne’eman

Israel’s Labor party is showing life lately.  Were one to collect evidence of their existence since the winter elections a Carbon 14 dating apparatus would be of great use.  But now they appear to be back with a vengeance.

When interviewed Labor MKs make sense, at least at the outset.  Amram Mitzna who led the party to its worst election defeat ever and then quit as party chairman, is adamant on the necessity of building the security fence.  He has the agreement of 70% of the Israeli population, with only the more extreme right and left disagreeing.  After the two recent bombings he accused the government of abandoning the security of the average Israeli citizen by not having completed the fence.  In the most crucial portion of southern Samaria just east of the Tel Aviv area the demarcation line has not been decided and the right wing coalition partners (National Religious and National Union) are holding up funding in the committees.

The 70% have plenty to be aggravated about and here Labor certainly leads the consensus.   But Mitzna has no one to blame but himself.  He refused to join the National Unity Government offered by PM Ariel Sharon and forced the Likud into a coalition with the right wing.  Mitzna and Labor bailed out on taking responsibility when he decided to go into the opposition.  If Labor were in the government today the fence would be a much greater priority and funding would not be blocked in Knesset committees.  The population remembers even if he would prefer everyone to forget.

Next is MK Avram Burg, several time contender (and loser) for the Labor party leadership.  He condemns the government decision to expel Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasir Arafat as “childish” and counterproductive.  The decision has led to unprecedented demonstrations of support and undercut whatever Palestinian moderates may be left.  Arafat wandering around the world and getting the “red carpet” treatment while planning terror attacks from abroad is much more dangerous than when he is locked up in the Mukata’a in Ramallah.

But Burg cannot let his criticisms go with some demagoguery.  He brands Sharon “an obstacle” to peace but defends Arafat as the one Israel must engage “as difficult as that may be” in order to make the illusive peace.  When asked about Sharon’s peace initiatives he castigates the PM as “Washington’s puppet” who runs off to make peace at the American behest but undermines the process whenever he can (especially through “settlement” policy).  Had Labor been in the government the Right would sit in the opposition, there would be less settlement activity and no decision to expel Arafat. 

The Likud and the Right are world renowned for great hawkish declarations such as the unusable cabinet decision to expel Arafat (in the foreseeable future) thereby putting him at center stage and resurrecting his support.  He is now more “relevant” than he has been in the past three years.  The cabinet decision managed to antagonize the Europeans and even President Bush.

But none of this will absolve Labor of their new - found public image of lots of blabble, irresponsibility and hypocrisy.  In their case “silence” may truly be “golden”. 

P.S.  To figure out where they are and what they are doing during the self imposed silent period it may be useful for them to pick up a copy of the play Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett and read it more than once.