Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Barak Is Back

Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak is storming back onto the political scene. He faces a run-off for the leadership of his Labour party with Ami Ayalon, after they both beat current leader and defence minister Amir Peretz in an election. The final vote between the two main contenders takes place on June 12, with both promising to take the party out of the coalition government unless Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is replaced.

Mr Peretz has paid the price for trying to make up for his lack of personal military experience and his reputation as a centre-left dovish sort of leader, by trying to act the tough guy. Last summer's war with Hizbollah was as much his conflict as anyone else's. Had it gone well, he would have proved he could be trusted with defending Israel, always the most important thing for any politician there to do. But it didn't go well at all, so it's political curtains for him.

His two rivals, in common with most Israeli leaders of the past, both have strong security records to fall back on. Mr Barak is highly-decorated military man who famously dressed as a woman to kill Palestinian terrorists, while Mr Ayalon used to run the internal security service. If the winner carries out his threat to quit the government, more political turmoil and possibly new elections lie ahead. With the Likud party of a more extreme ex-PM, Binyamin Netanyahu, doing well in the polls, Israel looks set for a lurch to the right. The dream that Mr Olmert and Ariel Sharon could lead their (somewhat) centrist Kadima party to a peace deal acceptable to the whole Israeli nation has faded all too quickly.

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