Israel: Turbulent politics as Sharon divorces Likud

The Israeli government is collapsing in turmoil, forcing forward the date of the next general election by eight months.

The political drama began when trade union federation leader, Amir Peretz, unexpectedly ousted Shimon Peres as leader of the Labour Party, by a vote of the party rank and file.

Peretz then quickly moved to withdraw the Labour Party from Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s coalition government, which left Sharon without a majority. Then came a second bombshell; Sharon decided to abandon the right-wing Likud party that he helped create in 1973, to set up a new party as a vehicle for fighting the coming election and then trying to form another government.

A section of Likud views Sharon as a great betrayer, following his masterminding of the recent ’disengagement’ of Israeli forces from the Gaza strip. Many in the party expressed vociferous opposition to the withdrawal and Sharon has now calculated that he will place himself in a better position by escaping a party that has become an obstacle to his plans.

His newly created entity, named ’National Responsibility’, is drawing in other deserters from Likud and they are likely to be joined by opportunist leading politicians from other capitalist parties represented in the parliament.

Sharon’s aim would then be to lead a new, completely realigned coalition government after the election, expected in March 2006, if his party can gain enough support. The policy of a further Sharon-led coalition would inevitably be to try to continue a neo-liberal economic programme and to concretise the brutal unilateral separation with the Palestinian territories that he has begun.

While a majority of Israelis have supported ’disengagement’, the election of Peretz to the Labour Party leadership reflects widespread anger and distress over the repeated cuts programmes and other attacks on living standards carried out by the government.

Peretz was elected by Labour members on the basis of arguing against the most brutal pro-market measures, and for a return by Labour to a more ’social-democratic’ stance.

However, while he is not typical of the leaders of Israel’s largest capitalist parties, in that he comes from a working-class, Arab Jewish background, he has played a major role in holding back and betraying workers’ struggles in the trade union federation and supported many of the government’s anti-working class measures.

He has also come to the helm of a deeply divided and discredited Labour Party which, posing no real alternative, will struggle in the pre-election period to counter the momentum of Sharon’s latest project.

From The Socialist, paper of the Socialist Party, cwi in England and Wales

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November 2005