18 January 2011

"We simply had no choice": why Nick Clegg might want to get some advice from Ehud Barak.

It's always good to start with a joke. Even when discussing the chaos which is Middle East politics.

The Israeli Prime Minister meets the British Prime Minister. The latter holds his head in his hands. His Israeli counterpart asks what is wrong. "Oh, you wouldn't understand. You are Prime Minister of 8 million. I am Prime Minister of 60 million!" comes the reply.

"Ah," responds the Israeli Premier. "But you are Prime Minister of 60 million people. I am Prime Minister of 8 million Prime Ministers."

(Next week: some juggling!).

Given the fragmentation of their political parties, the population of Israel may not be far off realising the jocular PM's nightmare of them all having a turn at the head of the cabinet table at some point.

Ehud Barak's decision to leave the Labor Party but remain in the Likud-led coalition, has led to much rending of the Israeli left's outer garments, including this over-wraught absurdity by propagandist Gideon Levy, which includes the line: 

"Events yesterday did not propel masses to the streets; nor did throngs of viewers watch the television news."

Well, yes. In a unicameral, pure proportional representation political system, such splitting and fusing between parties is inevitable. (Though a merger between Yisrael Beiteinu and the United Arab List may be a little way off still). 

In many ways, any situation where a coalition exists makes such manoeuvres inevitable. As Barak's co-defector to the Atzmaut faction, Matan Vilnai said:

"At every meeting, you never knew who was with you and who was ready to quit and join a different party...In order to advance our own ideas, we have decided to separate and go on a new path...We simply had no choice."

The centrist element of Labor's internal coalition has decided that their chances of achieving policy goals in the long-term lie in a closer relationship with the right-of-centre senior partner in the current inter-party coalition. 

The more progressive wing of the Israeli Labor Party is now free to pursue constructive opposition to the governing coalition (hopefully under Isaac Herzog, who would be a brilliant, pragmatic and inspiring choice for leader). maybe joining with other social democratic parties such as the New Movement (pdf).

Now. What does all this remind me of?

Nick Clegg has not always been the crunchiest afikomen in the matzo stack when it comes to his commentary on the Israel-Palestine conflict. But I bet he's taking a deeper, more analytical, interest in the region's politics at the moment.

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