Daily Israel Report
More

Zion's Corner Blogs


Labor Union Catapulted into Gov’t; Idealists in Opposition

The Histadrut labor union was the big winner in the Labor-Likud coalition deal. Practical politics stonewalled ideologues on the left and right.
By Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu
First Publish: 3/25/2009, 9:56 AM / Last Update: 3/25/2009, 10:36 AM

Israel News Photo: Flash 90

Histadrut union leader Ofir Eini was the big winner in the Likud-Labor party coalition agreement, which gives the labor union veto power over changes in salaries for government employees. The agreement also calls on all employers and the government to add to a fund for business in financial trouble. Eini also won the right to take part in all socio-economic discussions on significant decisions.

Eini in effect has become a part of the government without being a Knesset Member. His predecessor, Labor MK Amir Peretz, formerly headed his own Am Echad (One People) party while leading the Histadrut.
Eini in effect has become a part of the government without being a Knesset Member.

“For years, we've fought to hold a dialogue with the government before decisions were made,” he said after the Labor party’s Central Committee triumphed over the ideological wing of the party and accepted the coalition agreement in a 58-42 percent vote.

Labor MKs, headed by Peretz and Shelly Yechimovich, vehemently opposed the practicality of Barak, who said after the February elections that the public “sent Labor into the Opposition.”

Labor’s drubbing in the February 10 national elections, in which it dropped from 19 to 13 Knesset seats, was mild compared with the defeat of the even more ideologically-leftist Meretz party, which barely managed to remain in the Knesset. The party, which once claimed a dozen MKs, now has only thee legislators, two less than in the previous parliament.

Ideology has been a big loser in Israel politics since Ariel Sharon shocked the national religious camp and launched the 2005 “Disengagement” program that led to the destruction of the same communities that he helped build in Gaza and part of northern Samaria.

The expulsion of 10,000 Jews from their homes and the immediate result of an escalation in rocket attacks that finally reached as far as north of Ashdod led many politicians, including senior Labor MK Binyamin Ben-Eliezer to conclude that they made a huge mistake in approving the plan.

One of the supporters of the expulsion was Netanyahu, who was then serving as Finance Minister in the Sharon government and was a long-time backer of a strong Jewish presence in Judea, Samaria and Gaza. After it was clear that the Sharon government had overcome opposition to the expulsion plan, Netanyahu switched sides and formally voted against it in the final Knesset approval of the program.

His recent election campaign was based on Israel’s retaining the Golan Heights and his refusal to accept a “two-state” solution, in which the Palestinian Authority would become an independent country after the expulsion of another half a million Jews from Judea and Samaria as well as the Jerusalem neighborhoods that were restored to the Jewish State in the 1967 Six-Day War.

Two of Netanyahu's coalition partner leaders, Labor chairman Ehud Barak and Yisrael Beiteinu (Israel is Our Home) leader Avigdor Lieberman, favor the establishment of a new PA state, although with different conditions.

Netanyahu’s political skills in forging a deal with Labor have left other idealists, notably the Ichud Leumi (National Union) party out in the cold. The party’s four MKs have insisted that the government declare it will not remove any Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria. However, the party is continuing talks with the Likud on Wednesday and says "there still is something to talk about."

Another party likely to be remain in the Opposition due to its principles is United Torah Judaism (UTJ), which so far has rejected the stipulation by coalition partner Yisrael Beiteinu that accepts civil marriages for non-Jewish couples. The radical change in the long-time policy of requiring all marriages to be under rabbinical authority opens the door to further reforms, Yisrael Beiteinu wants to make it possible for a Jewish man or woman to marry a non-Jew in civil ceremonies.

The last remaining ideologists are those in the Jewish Home party, who also reject a PA state but have not demanded a guarantee that no Jewish communities be destroyed. The party still is negotiating with the Likud, which now holds a comfortable majority of 66 MKs following the agreements with Yisrael Beiteinu, Labor and the Shas Sephardic religious party.

Livni's Principles Keep Kadima in Opposition
Placing principles above politics also has kept Kadima chairwoman Tzipi Livni out of power after she refused to buy coalition partners with budget allocations and Cabinet posts while demanding that all parties accept the creation of a PA state.

She was unable to form a government after taking over the Kadima party from outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert lst September because she refused to accept Shas demands for an increase in child support payments. Netanyahu, who was behind the slash in the stipends several years ago, agreed last week to partially restore some of the cuts.

She technically won the Knesset election in February with one Knesset seat more than the Likud, but no other party backed her to form a government. Likud chairman Netanyahu invited her to join a unity government, but she stuck to her principle that he categorically state he accepts a two-state solution.

Her party will sit in the Opposition of idealists--alongside Meretz, apparently the UTJ and possibly Ichud Leumi and Jewish Home.