Benjamin Netanyahu Ehud Barak Isaac Herzog Israel Israeli Labor Party

Is there a shred of hope for a renewed Israeli Labor Party? Sure…

Today, two days after I posted a lament about the rightward tilt of Israel’s Labor Party, Ehud Barak announced that he was quitting Labor and forming a new party, “Atzmaut,” that would be “centrist, Zionist and democratic.” He took four Knesset members with him. Good riddance. While this blog obviously doesn’t keep track of the daily rush of events in the Middle East, I thought the previous post deserved a timely update.

Three of the eight remaining Labor MKs, –Yitzhak Herzog, Avishai Braverman and Binyamin Ben Eliezer– resigned today and they are trying reconstitute and rebuild the party, which will now, at long last, be in the opposition, as noted here.

“The time has come to stop lying to ourselves and leave the government which has brought us to a dead-end and forced upon us Avigdor Lieberman and his party with its unacceptable racist discourse, which threatens our democracy,” Herzog said in his announcement. About time!

Tom Mitchell’s Self-Hating Gentile (best name for a blog on the entire Web, for my money) offers a useful historical analysis. Daniel Levy also offers instructive, very gloomy commentary:

The Labor Party split serves to clarify rather than change the existing political dynamic – one of absolute impasse on the Israeli-Palestinian front. There is no prospect of meaningful change being generated internally by the Israeli side. Netanyahu is now under even less and perhaps no pressure from his coalition to do anything on the peace front. The US has so far decided not to step into this vacuum with a clear effort of its own.

It may be that Netanyahu considers that the time will soon be ripe to introduce an initiative of his own, the logic being that, assuming US timidity, he is in a strong position and that he rather than the Palestinians can define the agenda for 2011. Any such Netanyahu initiative is likely to be extremely limited in its scope – forget any settlement evacuations or serious territorial adjustments and think instead of more economic projects, attempts to entrench the PA as a subcontractor for Israel, and perhaps the notion of a vaguely defined and territorially inconsequential Palestinian mini-state.

On the one hand, the newly diminished, 66-seat coalition government will be even more extreme and right wing, as Yossi Verter explains. On the other hand, it might be more prone to haggling and bickering between secular and religious right wing parties.

Regardless, I cling to the hope that a mainstream, left-leaning Labor Party that clearly stands for something can be rebuilt by the remaining MKs. Stranger things have happened, haven’t they? Verter explains:

The Labor Party’s future looked gloomy last night, but it wasn’t too bright before the split, either. After going through seven leaders and losing dozens of Knesset seats over the last two decades, it has reached the moment of truth. The coming weeks will show whether it is at the end of the road or still has something to contribute to Israeli politics.

I know Herzog and admire him. I’ve met Braverman a few times. Both are decent, progressive men who were in the wrong government, at the wrong time. Don’t count them out.

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