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Serious Labor Threat

28 October 2002

By Yisrael Ne’eman

The National Unity Government may be on the way out.  As expected, Labor is making an issue over the state budget just before the party elections for chairman on November 19th.  Labor opponents to the NUG got a boost from right wing extremists over the hill top settlement issue when the defense minister, Ben Eliezer ordered the removal of these illegal developments. 

The proposed state budget has plenty of cuts, but none as far as settlement in Judea and Samaria (West Bank) are concerned, in fact there are claims of budget increases.  On the other hot issue between Left and Right, religious and secular, yeshiva budgets are not being slashed, instead benefits to populations in distress are being reduced.  Except on an ideological level, this is certainly absurd.

Benyamin (Fuad) Ben Eliezer is facing a challenge by both Chaim Ramon and Amram Mitzna and has chosen a politically opportune time to deal with the proto-settlements, overall settlement budget and generous yeshiva funding (including draft exemptions).  Noises about these issues have been heard in the past.

This time though, Labor is serious as they want 700 million shekels in settlement funds transferred to social welfare programs.  On this and the yeshiva issue they are willing to go to the polls by the end of the winter with the state budget still pending (by law it must be passed by March 31st or the government falls). 

As much as the Israeli population supports the NUG and PM Sharon, most are opposed to the continued exaggerated favor shown both the ultra-orthodox community and the settler organizations.  The issue of where the future border should be drawn between Israel and the Palestinians may be quite controversial for the political Center but the above mentioned issues face a fairly serious consensus of opposition.

The Likud supplied an excellent excuse for a Labor resignation.  Was it done on purpose to ensure early elections and the establishment of a right wing government this spring?  Maybe.  Or are these possibly just political concessions to the ultra-orthodox Shas party and rightist coalition partners.

In any case Labor is on the way out, using a couple of very juicy election issues which could bolster their chances of obtaining more support.  Labor could certainly become a credible opposition and make a future right wing Likud led coalition uncomfortable.

Unless Sharon and Finance Minister Silvan Shalom are willing to make a few necessary changes in the relevant 2003 budget clauses.