The Israel Labor Party, America's partner for peace in Israel for three decades from 1969 to 2000, has a new leader--Shelli Yachimovich (pronounced Yakhimovich). She defeated former leader Amir Peretz in a runoff election after the two led a field of four candidates. Yachimovich is a former journalist who joined the party in 1999. She advocates a return to emphasizing social and economic issues rather than the peace process. In other words, she wants to return Labor to its more centrist position on defense and security issues that it held up until Oslo, while taking it slightly to the left on economic matters.
I think this is a very good idea. Politically she has to restore the party's brand among Israeli voters. During and after Oslo it became too identified with Meretz and this led to brand confusion to the detriment of Labor. Labor has lost some four-fifths of its Knesset seats since Rabin was elected prime minister for the second time in 1992 (from 44 to 8). This decline is due to a number of reasons including the fallout from the peace process, the lack of policy development, the failure to develop a successor generation of leaders during the Peres-Rabin rivalry from 1974 to 1994, and the over-reliance on former generals to provide the party with electoral charisma.
And finally there was the split earlier this year when leader Ehud Barak left with a third of the party's MKs. Barak was said to be the protege of Yitzhak Rabin but he behaved more like Moshe Dayan or David Ben-Gurion at the end of their political careers. Ben-Gurion split from Mapai (the main predecessor of Labor) to form Rafi in 1965. When Rafi recombined with Mapai and another socialist party, Ahdut Ha'Avoda, to form Labor in 1968 Ben-Gurion stayed out and eventually his tiny splinter party became part of the Likud when that camp was founded in 1973. Dayan left Labor as an independent in 1977 and joined the new Likud government as foreign minister. He then formed his own private list in 1981 for the election shortly before his death. Barak just wants to be defense minister as Dayan wanted to be foreign minister.
Yachimovich's key challenge will be to find a comfortable working relationship with Kadima without letting her party be swallowed up by the larger party and lose its identity. If Yachimovich can take Kadima to the left on social and economic issues there may be eventually grounds for a merger of the parties. This would be a historic reconciliation between the descendants of the nationalist Revisionists of Vladimir Ze'ev Jabotinsky and the descendants of Mapai.