Perhaps, more than anything else,
this week's ceremonies for Labor Party
Chairman Shimon Peres' 80th birth-
day underline the left's newfound
energy. Sunday's celebration of Peres'
achievements was skilfully used to
was sitting in the audience. "If you
do, we will support you, the nation
will support you. We don't have to be
in the government for that."
On Sunday, Sharon had seemed to
suggest casually the possibility of a
new national unity government.
"Perhaps we can still work together
for peace and security," he told Peres.
But Labor's Avraham Shochat and
Benjamin Ben-Eliezer quickly shot
down the idea.
Only if Sharon takes the peace
process with the Palestinians forward
will Labor be interested, they said; the
party will not allow itself to be used
again as a fig leaf for what they char- ,
acterize as Sharon's do-nothing policy.
In making the perceived offer,
Sharon was signaling to his present
coalition partners — who are threat-
ening to rock the boat over the budg-
et — that he has other options.
promote Labor's agenda and challenge
what the party sees as Sharon's intran-
sigence and delaying tactics.
At the gala evening in Tel Aviv's
Mann Auditorium, former U.S.
President Bill Clinton drew rapturous
applause when he declared that the
Oslo peace process had not failed and
could still be brought to a successful
conclusion. Indeed, the cheers for
Clinton seemed to indicate the abid-
ing strength of the left's yearning for a
revival of the peace process.
The birthday party became a pow-
erful celebration of what might have
been had Oslo succeeded — and
what many on the left think could
still be, if only Labor is given another
a shot in power.
Turning to Sharon, Peres said,
"Peace is closer than you think, and
closer than I believe."
At a seminar at Tel Aviv University
on Monday, Peres again used a high-
profile occasion to juxtapose the left's
panacea of separation against what it
sees as the right's ineffectual delaying
tactics. Playing for time, Peres said,
could prove catastrophic.
Instead, he suggested that the gov-
ernment pull out of Gaza uncondi-
tionally, as soon as possible. The test
"will be whether you are capable of
making a quick decision," Peres said
in remarks addressed to Sharon, who
Sharon's real problem, though, is in
his own Likud Party, where his posi-
tion has eroded somewhat in the
wake of financial scandals that impli-
cated him and his sons.
Already, possible successors —
Finance Minister Benjamin
Netanyahu, Defense Minister Shaul
Mofaz and Trade and Industry
Minister Ehud Olmert — are starting
to circle, and their sniping as they
jockey for position is not helping the
All this is starting to hurt Sharon:
For the first time in months, there are
signs that his popularity is waning. A
mid-September poll in the Mdariv
newspaper shows satisfaction with
Sharon's performance at 43 percent,
down from well over 60 percent a few
months ago. Fully 49 percent said
they were dissatisfied with Sharon's
Such results are energizing the
opposition, which for the first time in
years sees cracks in the right's previ-
ously impregnable position. Many in
Labor believe the scandals may soon
force Sharon's resignation and that
any successor will fail, lacking
Sharon's political dexterity in pursu-
ing an ideology that Labor feels is out
of sync with reality.
Then, they say, Labor's leader after
Peres — whoever that may be — will
have a real chance of becoming prime
If there's no light yet at the end of
Israel's tunnel, there may at least be
for the Labor Party. O
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