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(photo credit: )
Prime Minister-designate Amir Peretz has gained the trust of the electorate as the head of the Labor Party.
The only problem is that, given the awkward nature of our maximalist proportional-representation system, that only means that now he gets to conduct coalition negotiations with the heads of the other parties, who until a few days ago were busy throwing dirt at him and calling him a dangerous socialist and a political dilettante.
In return for winning the election, he gets to sit in the same cabinet for the next four years with the very people who are out to get him.
His election platform called for a national pension program, full day care for working parents and a much more comprehensive national health plan, to paid for by the National Insurance Institute. The price tag? A cool NIS 6 billion - and that's the conservative estimate.
His prospective partners in Kadima and the Likud are demanding tax cuts for small- and medium-sized businesses and incentives for industry to try to spring the economy out of the deepening recession. They're also demanding that the government allow employers to pay a lower minimum wage. If not, they warn, unemployment will take off.
Another potential coalition member, Shas, is holding out for increased benefits for yeshiva students who have seen their handouts dwindle due to mounting inflation.
Peretz was elected by those who saw their salaries run out by the middle of the month and their savings dwindle to insignificance. However, the morning after the victory party, he suddenly feels powerless to deliver salvation. The governor of the Bank of Israel called first thing to warn that this was no time to rock the boat, and Binyamin Netanyahu, who holds the key to forming a stable coalition, is demanding to be returned to his beloved Treasury.
Will Peretz manage to overcome the obstacles on the way to the ugly ivy-clad building next to the Knesset? Is the economy salvageable and is a social-democratic system the answer? Maybe we'll find out the answer to all these questions a few years down the road, but meanwhile Amir Peretz, head of the second largest party in the Knesset, is in no position to build a viable coalition. That's Ehud Olmert's job.
The votes for Shas and the Gil Pensioners Party proved that there are significant concerns about the low standard of living among the weaker parts of society, but that the economy is still strong enough for those concerns to be limited.
On Sunday, Amir Peretz made his biggest political mistake yet with his overture to the Right in the forlorn hope of forming a Olmert-bypass coalition. Not because the move cost him the support of Labor's natural ally, Meretz, which was just waiting for an excuse to enter into negotiations with Kadima, outside of the Labor umbrella, but because the move was destined for failure, and Peretz will find himself, sooner rather than later, back at the table opposite Olmert's representatives, humbled, chastened and forced to accept worse terms than he could have gotten if he'd settled straight down to business.
At least he can comfort himself that if he doesn't make too many more of the same kind of mistakes, in a few years the aforementioned scenario might not be so imaginary.