Politics: 10 to watch in 2008

The politicians most likely to succeed - or not - in the upcoming year.

Last year at this time, this newspaper predicted big things from 10 politicians for the year ahead in a story entitled: "10 to watch in 2007." The 10 selected were Ariel Atias, Ami Ayalon, Ehud Barak, Menahem Ben-Sasson, Dalia Itzik, Micha Lindenstrauss (technically not a politician), Tzipi Livni, Yoram Marciano, Reuven Rivlin and Estherina Tartman. All 10 were indeed featured in banner headlines this year, but most of them not for the better. It was definitely a good year for Atias, who has led a revolution in the cellphone industry, and Itzik, who wined and dined world leaders as acting president. The jury is still out on the investigations of Lindenstrauss and the electoral reforms of Ben-Sasson. Barak returned from political exile with great fanfare, but his year ended with embarrassing internal turmoil in Labor and rock-bottom polls. For the rest of the group, 2007 was a year to forget. Ayalon lost the Labor race by a small margin and then ruined his reputation - perhaps irrevocably - by breaking his promise to never become a minister-without-portfolio. Rivlin also lost a race, missing out on his dream of becoming president. Marciano lost his job as Labor faction chairman when his political patron, Amir Peretz, was defeated and Barak is determined to prevent Marciano's return to the Knesset. Livni lost her status as the darling of the Hebrew press when she called for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to resign after the publication of the interim Winograd Report without quitting herself. Olmert then limited her political independence by appointing her to head the negotiating team with the Palestinians. But the politician who had the worst year in 2007 was unquestionably Tartman, who suffered a car accident and a crash in her credibility when she was found to have exaggerated her resume. Everyone knows who Estherina Tartman is now, much to her chagrin. At risk of sentencing them to similar doom, The Jerusalem Post selected 10 politicians (in alphabetical order), who will likely make a significant impact on the headlines in the coming year.
  • Ruhama Avraham The minister-without-portfolio who is currently known primarily for her flamboyant wardrobe will make her presence felt as the minister in charge of the country's 60th anniversary celebrations. But ongoing investigations against her could tarnish the celebrations and end her political career.
  • Benny Elon The National Union leader's political power could wane with the defection of MK Arye Eldad and other rightists to the new Hatikva party. But Elon also heads the Knesset's Christian Allies Caucus, and his real power lies in his influence with key Christian leaders in the US. Elon has the power to make the division of Jerusalem an issue in the primary of the Republican Party, where key movers and shakers have endorsed his diplomatic plan, the Israel Initiative.
  • Zehava Gal-On Polls show Gal-On trailing far behind in the March Meretz leadership race. But as the race heats up, she will present herself as the only candidate with enough moxie to return young voters who left for fads like Shinui and the Gil Pensioners Party. Even if she loses the race in March, she could end up the Meretz leader in a short period of time.
  • Stas Meseznecov The relatively unknown Knesset Finance Committee chairman known for his unpronounceable name could become much more powerful this year, if Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik succeeds in eliminating the much-maligned economic arrangements bill. The dozens of laws previously packaged in the bill would have to be voted on individually by the committee, empowering the modest Meseznecov in Israel's version of "a tsar is born."
  • Shaul Mofaz Olmert's most formidable foe on every issue from Palestinian prisoners to preventing car accidents, the transportation minister will continue to face off against the prime minister in 2008. But the former IDF chief of General Staff has so far not demonstrated the bravery necessary to prove himself as the kind of leader who could become a serious alternative to Olmert in Kadima and candidate for prime minister. Quitting the cabinet after the final Winograd Report's release could change that.
  • Haim Oron The front-runner for the Meretz leadership is promising his party's members more of the same if he is elected in the March primary, and that's apparently what Meretz members want. If he wins, the party's ideology and focus won't change and its electoral support will probably continue to fall, as its older supporters die and the electoral threshold rises. Oron may win the Meretz race easily, but winning support from the general public, where he is less known, will be much harder.
  • Meir Porush The most exciting race of 2008 won't be in a divided Meretz but in a united Jerusalem. Mayor Uri Lupoliansky has vowed to honor his commitment to allow an Agudat Yisrael candidate to become the next mayor. Porush is the heir apparent, but the haredi world is angry at him for his political betrayal in the recent Betar Illit race. He also lacks Lupoliansky's trademark smile, his charm and his ability to appeal to secular voters, so his ascension to the throne of the Holy City is far from guaranteed.
  • Gideon Sa'ar The Likud faction chairman has found a way to become a legislative powerhouse, despite representing a faction with only 12 MKs, passing more bills than almost any other lawmaker. The party's exile in the opposition has allowed him to build his leadership skills and the star-power that could yield him a key cabinet position in the next government - or the post in which many MKs want to see him: Knesset speaker.
  • Moshe Sharoni Bitter and rebellious MKs are always the most fun to watch, and there's no MK more bitter than the recently ousted Pensioners faction chairman. Sharoni intends to split the party in the spring and offer his services to the highest bidder. He'll bring with him a hefty sum in party funding, but his price is ensuring his place in the next Knesset.
  • Shelly Yacimovich The former journalistic heavyweight flexed her political muscles last week in a rally at Labor headquarters, in which she presented herself as the party's new socioeconomic powerhouse with Peretz on the wane. Shifting her support to Barak at the 11th hour of the Labor race may have made her Labor's next leading lady at Yuli Tamir's expense and a candidate for a socioeconomic ministry in the next government.