The party which helped found Israel itself, the party of David Ben Gurion, once the automatic party-of-choice, Labour is the big loser in Israel’s latest elections.
The party, which spearheaded peace drives with the Palestinians in the 1990s under Yitzhak Rabin and continued rapprochement with Shimon Peres, has seen its support collapse under Ehud Barak, producing a fourth-place finish at the ballot box. Barak, Israel’s most-decorated soldier, led the party to power in 1999, a victory forged on general unhappiness with then-premier Benjamin Netanyahu. Barak’s legendary military record and his pro-peace campaign persuaded voters that Israel’s security could be guaranteed. He pulled troops out of southern Lebanon and encouraged talks with the Palestinians. However, once in office he managed to annoy almost everyone. Some said he was too liberal, others accused him of not being liberal enough. Barak has always suffered allegations of arrogance, that he is incapable of delegating and working with others and of failing to appreciate that compromise and consensus are the common currency. The new era of hope ended in disappointment and forced Barak off the stage for a period of reflection. Once back in the political spotlight, he insisted he had learned his lessons. During the three-week assault on Gaza, his and Labour’s poll ratings rose. It proved to be an illusion; the electorate was ahead of him, shifting right as he tried to bolster his centre-left credentials. Now the wilderness beckons. Barak’s time seems to have passed and Labour’s worst-ever election result leaves them adrift and off-course after 60 years of shaping Israel’s future.