Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

To Tell the Truth: New "Democratic Israel" Party Could Form Peace Coalition with Labor

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

To Tell the Truth: New "Democratic Israel" Party Could Form Peace Coalition with Labor

Article excerpt

To Tell the Truth: New "Democratic Israel" Party Could Form Peace Coalition With Labor

The coming Israeli Knesset (parliamentary) elections and the continuing Middle East peace process have produced one of the strangest political creatures in Israel's history. A collection of former Marxist activists, a group of Milton Friedman's groupies, and opponents of the rabbinical authorities of the Jewish state, all of whom together currently control 10 Knesset seats, have formed a new "Democratic Israel" (DI) party, which hopes to become the king-maker of a new "peace government" following the June 23 elections.

The goal of what is now the largest political bloc in the Knesset after Likud and Labor is to win 15 parliamentary seats in the elections, join a new Labor-led cabinet and reinforce the new government's dovish orientation. DI leaders, who toyed with the idea of naming their party "Peace Camp," hope to pressure a government headed by Yitzhak Rabin to negotiate with the PLO-supported West Bank leadership an Israeli withdrawal from the occupied Arab territories and establishment of a Palestinian state.

DI's long-term objective is to replace the religious-orthodox parties as the third largest political force in Israel's politics and become the critical element for formation of any future coalition government.

Labor's Refugees

Many developments have made the birth of the new party possible. The end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union have made it easier for MAPAM (the United Workers party, whose leaders adhered in the '40s and '50s to dogmatic Marxist principles and even worshipped Joseph Stalin) to band together with Shinui (Change), which is headed by a group of millionaires who advocate reforming Israel's economy along free market lines.

Those two parties have established a new political force with RATZ (Citizens Rights Party), led by Shulamit Aloni, Israel's most famous female politician, who has called for years for separating synagogue and state. Aloni, Shinui leader Amnon Rubinstein and MAPAM chairman Yair Tsaban all detest Rabin, whose brutal policies as defense minister ignited the intifada. Indeed, several RATZ leaders, including Member of Knesset Yosef Sarid and Abraham Tamir, a former aide to Ezer Weizman, are political refugees from Labor. They feared that their former party was drifting to the right and turning into a Likud II. They suspect that the new Labor Party chairman, in contrast to his predecessor, Shimon Peres, will be inclined to form a new "National Unity" government with Likud that will only lead to a stalemate in the peace process.

It is the possibility of a Labor-Likud National Unity government that DI leaders hope to prevent by providing Labor with an alternative partner for a "peace coalition." As Aloni explained in a newspaper interview, DI's best-case scenario is that Labor under Rabin will be able to "steal" close to 5 seats (that is, about 150,000 voters) from Shamir, whose party holds 38 seats. With DI's potential win of 15 seats, Labor could form a coalition of 58 seats that would enjoy the backing of the Arab parties, which are expected to win about 6 seats.

The new peace cabinet would then move, as Rabin has promised in several recent statements and interviews, to complete within six to nine months negotiations with the Palestinians over an interim solution. It would then seek a new and more impressive mandate for peace from the Israeli electorate. After winning public support for his peace strategy, according to this scenario, Rabin--like South Africa's De Klerk--would then be able to continue the negotiations with Syria and Jordan and move toward a permanent agreement with the Palestinians.

This scenario is not nearly as far-fetched as it might have seemed only two months ago. Then, after Rabin's defeat of the more dovish Shimon Peres, many Israelis predicted that the June 23 elections would only reaffirm the current parliamentary balance of power, and that the hawkish Rabin would have no choice other than forming a new National Unity government. …

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