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A Mitzna Win, A Labor Loss?

20 November 2002

By Yisrael Ne’eman

Haifa mayor Amram Mitzna (54%) is the new Labor party chairman having defeated Benyamin Ben Eliezer (38%) and Haim Ramon (7%) in the Labor party primaries.  The party has taken a sharp turn to the left despite Mitzna’s declaration that Ben Eliezer should be his number two man in an effort to avoid an internal split.  The populace however is not convinced as Mitzna very much echoes the foreign policy and defense policies of Labor super dove Yossi Beilin, declaring he will meet with Arafat and that Camp David 2000 and the further concessions made at Taba 2001 (returning some 97% of the West Bank) are acceptable to him. 

A recent poll in the 110,000 strong Labor party showed approximately two thirds opposing a renewed partnership in a national unity coalition after elections should the Likud win.  Expecting to lose the upcoming elections it appears Laborites want to be in the opposition and not a junior partner in an NUG.  Mitza, in a somewhat surprising mood explained in a TV interview that he does not rule out the possibility of an NUG as long as the Likud takes a Labor stance.  Should there be negotiations, Labor will have to compromise somewhere.  By making the statement the new Labor leader is shifting to the center from the left wing position he held, so necessary to gain the party leadership.

He now hopes to gain the left leaning sections of the centrist vote in an effort to head off PM Ariel Sharon (should he win his contest with Benyamin Netanyahu) who now appeals to this group.  The center leans heavily towards Sharon who will allow for a truncated demilitarized Palestinian state and refuses to negotiate with terrorists, especially Yasir Arafat.  Mitzna appears very trusting and compromising with the Palestinians while demanding very little in return.  He is offering more than Barak and for most this smacks of capitulation.

Mitzna can marginalize Labor, doing what Michael Foote did to the British Labor Party in the 1980’s, setting the stage for conservative domination of British politics for 18 years under Margaret Thatcher and John Major.  Mitzna who is following in former prime minister Ehud Barak’s footsteps is in danger of being identified more with the left wing Meretz party than with the traditionalist left of center Labor platforms.  Should this happen the two parties representing the Zionist left will receive no more than 30 seats or one quarter of the Knesset, a drop from the present 36 taken in the last elections. 

The Likud and the centrist secularist Shinui party are expected to gain from a leftist Labor shift.  What is most important for the Left is how many seats Labor and Meretz obtain together and not just how many seats Labor gets.

By adopting Mitzna’s position towards the Palestinians the Labor Party is voting itself into the opposition, unless the Knesset list will rebalance itself towards the center.