Israel’s Political Drama: Labor Looks for a New Chief

Israel’s Political Drama: Labor Looks for a New Chief

For such a small country, Israel manages to offer one of the most unpredictable, lively and entertaining political scenes around. Observers of Israeli political theater have not had a dull moment in years. It was barely 13 months ago that the iconic Prime Minister Ariel Sharon rocked the political scene when he bolted Likud, the party he created, to launch the new Kadima party. Before long, Sharon had fallen into a coma; Ehud Olmert had taken over, formed a Kadima-Labor coalition government and built a most peculiar cabinet. The post of defense minister, a crucial job in Israel, went to a former labor union leader with virtually no military experience, Amir Peretz, head of the Labor Party. When the country went to war against Hezbollah in Lebanon only months later, the folly of that choice became obvious. Now both Peretz and Olmert scrape the bottom in popularity polls, and Peretz will likely lose his post as chairman of the Labor Party in leadership elections scheduled for May.

For now, the Labor race looks like a contest to see who will take over as defense minister, inheriting Labor's top job in the government. However, the Kadima-Labor coalition leads an extremely unpopular government, and the top man in the Labor Party could easily end up in a run for prime minister of Israel.

The field of candidates for the Labor leadership contest already offers enough drama to keep future playwrights at work for years. Labor, the party that dominated Israeli politics for decades, has looked moribund ever since Ehud Barak's efforts to make peace with Palestinians at Camp David ended in disaster, ushering in a new era of violence and turmoil.

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