The political drama unfolding in Israel over the past 48 hours is not only intriguing, but also highly instructive.
On Saturday night, the Likud and Labor parties reached a deal to form a national unity government, with the latter set to receive a total of 8 ministers and 3 deputy ministers in the new coalition (that’s not bad for a party that only has 21 members of Knesset – it means that over half the Labor faction can look forward to new ministerial posts).
Everything looked set for the deal to close, when one last sticking point cropped up: Shimon Peres’ new title. It turns out that Mr. Peres’ insistence on becoming a deputy prime minister who would serve as acting premier when Ariel Sharon is out of the country is legally problematic. According to Israel’s Basic Law: The Government, only one such position may exist, and Ehud Olmert of the Likud already holds it.
When the Likud then suggested that Peres accept a different title, such as deputy premier for the peace process, the Labor leader angrily rejected it, thereby holding up the formation of a new coalition government.
As of this writing, Labor and Likud parliamentarians are looking for a way to solve the problem, which might very well entail changing the law to grant Peres the title he so unashamedly covets.
Whether or not they succeed in doing so is beside the point, for in the past two days, Israelis have had a unique opportunity to see what it is that truly drives Mr. Peres – it is not ideology, nor even his ostensible desire for peace, but pride, pure and simple.
And for all his talk of the need for Labor to do everything possible to ensure the implementation of Sharon’s Gaza withdrawal plan, when it comes to the title he will bear on his business card, Peres knows where his real priorities truly lie.
And now, so do the rest of us.