Januaray 18, 2011 Medvedev in Jericho, Barak Leaves Labor, Tunisia

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A Daily Analysis
By Marc Schulman

Januaray 18, 2011 Medvedev in Jericho, Barak Leaves Labor, Tunisia?

There has been news of all kind coming from the Middle East and Israel in the last few days.

Part of the news seems like it could have come straight out of a Saturday Night Live skit, were the news not so serious. The Russian President Dmitry Medvedev cancelled his visit to Israel because of a labor dispute in the foreign ministry, but goes ahead with his visit to the Palestinian Authority. There he announces, joining a growing list of countries, the fact that Russia still recognizes the former Soviet Union's recognition of a Palestinian State. In the past few weeks more and more nations have given the Palestinians recognition. It's a political ball that, as long as the world feels Israel is not serious about negotiations, will be almost impossible to stop. 

The news dominating Israel in the last two days has been the decision of Defense Minister Ehud Barak to leave the party he heads, and start a new party. Barak's new party will be more closely aligned with the Likud and Netanyahu. By most accounts, Barak's leaving labor was a selfish act on his part. This would allow Barak to remain Defense Minister, as it was his decision to join the Netanyahu government against the wishes of most of Labors voters. Most of the remaining members of the Labor Party (8 out of a total of 12) have left the government.

The two questions that remain are: 1) what effect will Barak's maneuver have on the Netanyahu's government? and 2) Is there a future for the Labor party?, a party that effectively founded the modern State of Israel.

I believe the answer to the first question is that in the short run Barak's move increases the stability of the coalition. While 8 members of the Labor party are gone, the remaining 4 Labor party members have no where to go. Netanyahu can count on their support come what may. Netanyahu remains with a coalition of 65 (not counting Rabbi Amselem). He is no more dependant now, than he was before, on Shas or Yisrael Beiteinu, who can both bring down the government. Though neither party has shown any interest in doing more than threaten. So for the moment, the government is clearly more stable.

As to the future of the Labor Party, it is really hard to see how they will be able to re-establish themselves, after all these years of entering into coalitions, regardless of the ideology. Kadima, whose ideology is limited to its willingness to agree to territorial compromise, has taken the wind out of the center. Is there a place for a social, democratic party in Israel? Clearly, but it's very questionable whether the Labor Party can possibly fulfill that role.

Meanwhile, events have been happening in neighboring countries both near and far. The potentially most momentous events happened in Tunisia. The revolt there, which forced its long time leader to flee, has probably not run its course. Where it goes from here, is the key question. For the moment it is clearly a secular revolt that did not originate in the Mosques, but rather on Twitter and Facebook Will it remain so? Iranian exiles are warning the Tunisian demonstrators not to make the mistake they did and enter into a coalition with any Islamic groups. If Tunisia can end up with a purely secular government after recent events it will increase the odds of similar events happening in other countries.

Finally, events in Lebanon have moved closer to another, and probably final, confrontation between Hezbollah and the Sunnis and Christians. The UN has privately issued its report. Once the report becomes a public document, it will be very hard to douse the fires of sectarian violence, if they flare again.

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