New Labor Look Fits Sharon’s Dream Team

A distinct tilt from left to left-of-center characterized the parliamentary list Israel’s opposition Labor party picked Monday, December 9, to fight the January 28 general election. Labor, under its new leader Amram Mitzna – and a partially revamped top rank – thus signaled its readiness to take on the Israeli voter whom relentless Palestinian terrorism has rendered mistrustful of peace slogans. More subtly, the modified lineup reflected a willingness to heed the prime minister, Likud leader Ariel Sharon’s siren call for a post-election national unity government in partnership with its former partner Labor.
Sharon reissued this call Tuesday morning, December 10, before the results of the Labor ballot were fully counted.
He heard a different tune at the Likud primary on Sunday, December 8.
Sharon’s party knows that a broad coalition government weakens its leverage and cuts into the jobs available for the Likud faithful. To offset its leader’s swing to the center, Likud returned a hawkish parliamentary list, one third of which was made up of Sharon’s rival, foreign minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
Both made unexpected choices for the top slots: Likud’s parliamentary list is headed by Tzahi Hanegbi, environment minister, party veteran and hawk; Labor by Matan Vilnai, former general who served in Sharon-led coalition that broke up last month as minister of science and sports.
Neither party leader can be expected to keep at least one of his pre-election promises: Sharon’s to retain all the incumbent Likud ministers in his next administration and hand cabinet posts to his supporters who lost their Knesset seats; Mitzna’s to retire from the Labor leadership if his party comes in with less than 20 seats.
Opinion polls point to Likud under Sharon remaining the dominant force in Israeli politics, more than doubling its parliamentary faction from 19 seats in the 120-member parliament to more than 40 – at the expense of Labor, which is tipped to drop from 25 to 20 or below, and the religious parties.
Labor’s star has been robbed of its luster by the years of Palestinian terror in response to peace concessions offered by Labor governments. The Israeli voter believes Likud is more capable of a hard line. Sharon, on the other hand, prefers to see the extreme hawkish parties, such as the Avigdor Lieberman’s National Union, outside his government. On this point he bucks the wishes of sections of his own party. At the same time, after beating Netanyahu for the top spot, Sharon is the “the old man” and Likud’s tested vote-catcher who has overcome all challengers.
With the purging of several vocal peaceniks on the Labor list – Oslo Accords activist Yossi Beilin and “Peace Now” movement leader Tsali Reshef – Mitzna, for his part, is in a position to deal with Sharon.
debkafile‘s political analysts have therefore produced a rough sketch of one possible post-election pattern at the top of the next government: Sharon – prime minister, Mitzna – deputy prime minister and finance, Shaul Mofaz (Likud) – defense, Netanyahu – foreign affairs, former defense minister Binyamin Ben Eliezer – national infrastructure, Vilnai – internal security, Shimon Peres – minister without portfolio.
In both elections, funding played a larger role than has been customary in Israeli politics till now. Likud, which has placed 8 women candidates – a record – in its top 30, included an unknown, 27-year old Inbal Gabrieli, who has been revealed as backed by her family, owners of an international casino chain, in the hope of amending the law that prohibits gambling in Israel.
In Labor, Yuli Tamir, a lackluster minister of immigrant development in the Barak government that preceded Sharon’s administration, shot ahead of several Labor lions, including even the popular Haim Ramon. It just so happened she was put up by a group of wealthy lawyers, sidelined Labor party veterans seeking the roles of party power brokers.

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