Monday, January 17, 2011

Barak Splits Labor

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak has broken from Labor to form a new Independence Party:
"Defense Minister Ehud Barak announced Monday that he is stepping down as Labor Party chairman to set up a new party, following months of turmoil within the weakened faction.

"In the wake of waning support from his own ministers, Barak is forming a new faction called Atzmaut (Independence). He will be joined by four fellow Labor lawmakers - Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai, and members of Knesset Shalom Simhon, Einat Wilf and Ori Noked...

"Barak and the four other members of his new party are expected to remain in Netanyahu's coalition. It is not clear whether Labor's eight remaining lawmakers will support the government, in particular in light of recent threats to quit the coalition over the stalled Middle East peace process.

"With peace talks in limbo for more than three months, an increasing number of Labor members had urged Barak to pull out of the government because of the impasse.Labor MK Daniel Ben-Simon quit the party last week to protest Barak's decision to remain in the government."

The other eight Labor MK's have, in fact, since bolted the coalition, leaving Netanyahu with a narrower majority. Josh Marshall wonder if this is the end of the Labor Party:
"The larger question though is what will happen to Labor in the next election. A number of members of Labor went to Kadima when it was formed back in 2006. That's the party Ariel Sharon formed after leaving Likud (the coalition party he played a key role in founding in the early 1970s -- yes, it gets complicated.) If you're an Israeli who wants to vote for a potential governing party which is at least in principle in favor of a two-state solution, Kadima seems like your obvious choice. If you want a more clearly left pro-peace process party, you'll probably want to vote for Meretz, another party with historic ties to the Labor tradition in the country."

This would be the case if the peace process were the only issue in Israeli politics, but there are other ways for Labor to distinguish itself. For one, I would expect it to move closer to its socialist roots, with even more influence from organized labor and Palestinian-Israelis who wish are willing to vote for a Zionist party. The chairmanship of Amir Peretz is a precedent for this. A lesser factor could be any voters who are leftist on the peace process but oppose Kadima's secularist tendencies. Finally, it could simply merge with Kadima, creating a new Labor party much as Mapai merged with Avoda in the 1960's.



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