The future of the once-dominant Labor Party as a major player in Israeli politics is at stake as party voters go to the polls Tuesday to select their candidate in January’s general election.
An internal Labor Party poll placed Haifa Mayor Amram Mitzna ahead of his nearest challenger, former Defense Minister and Labor Party chairman Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, by 18 percent. The third candidate in the race, veteran politician Haim Ramon, trailed Mitzna by 30 percent.
Israeli military and police forces were placed on high alert on the eve of Passover for fear of increased Palestinian terrorist attacks with the U.S. peace mission on the verge of collapse and Palestinian President Yasir Arafat prevented from attending this week’s Arab League summit in Beirut.
Israel Radio reported that all army leave was cancelled and all police personnel — especially in Jerusalem — were mobilized in an effort to thwart attacks.
Even as U.S. Middle East envoy Anthony Zinni struggled to piece together a cease-fire between Israelis and Palestinians, Palestinian attacks continued and Israeli intelligence reported no let-up in terrorist activity.
After more than 17 months of virtually non-stop violence, punctuated this week by the largest Israeli military incursion into the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Israelis and Palestinians looked hopefully to the arrival of U.S. Middle East envoy Anthony Zinni and Vice President Dick Cheney.
“If Zinni does not come with a plan that will put pressure on [Palestinian President Yasir] Arafat, nothing will be accomplished,” said Gerald Steinberg, a professor of political science at Bar-Ilan University.
‘It is the closest I have ever come to death,” said Rabbi Henry Weiner of Manhattan. “I become emotional just talking about it.”
Rabbi Weiner and his wife, Rickie, were having lunch at the Kaffit Café in Jerusalem last Thursday when a Palestinian walked past with a knapsack slung over his shoulder.
The rabbi, in Jerusalem for a convention of the Reform movement’s Central Conference of American Rabbis, said the man attracted his attention because he was wearing a topcoat on a very hot afternoon.
Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak jumped into the lead for Labor Party leader after announcing his candidacy this week, but political observers said it was still a wide open race and that incumbent Amir Peretz should not be counted out.
A series of arrests in a suspected fraud and bribery scandal at the highest levels of Israel’s tax system shocked the public this week, with some analysts saying it could be more damaging to the country’s stability than terrorist attacks. The arrests Tuesday of 22 current and former tax officials — including Tax Authority Director Jackie Matza and his predecessor, Eitan Rub — followed a nearly yearlong probe into allegations that businessmen had for years influenced decisions in the Tax Authority.
In a week that saw the most violence in Israel since the Six-Day War in 1967, Israel’s intensified efforts to destroy the Palestinian terrorist infrastructure was met with a series of devastating suicide bombings and shootings that left more than 30 Israelis dead. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s response was to dig in his heels.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert this week won German support for sanctions against Iran aimed at ending its nuclear program and flew to Italy to receive similar support there. But at home the buzz was all about his apparent acknowledgement of Israel’s own nuclear arsenal.
In an effort to prop up a faltering Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, the United States was seen as pressuring Israel this week to release more Palestinian prisoners and dismantle more unauthorized outposts. But there is widespread opposition to such moves by many Israelis.