Israel's Labor Party May Gain From Gaza Operations

The war in Gaza is affecting political fortunes in Israel with parliamentary elections less than a month away. Akiva Eldar, chief political analyst and editorial writer for the Ha'aretz newspaper, says the formerly flailing Labor Party of Defense Minister Ehud Barak seems to be the big winner.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

The war in Gaza is scrambling the fortunes of political parties in Israel with parliamentary elections less than a month away. Among those jockeying for position are the current foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, and also the former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu who's leader of the hard-line opposition party Likud, and the current defense minister Ehud Barak, leader of the Labor Party. We called columnist Akiva Eldar today to talk about how Israeli politics are affecting the war and vice versa. He is chief political analyst for the Israeli newspaper, Ha'aretz.

Mr. AKIVA ELDAR, (Chief political analyst for the Israeli News Paper Ha'aretz): If you look at the polls, it seems that Ehud Barak and the Labor Party are the big winners. When the war started, the polls show that they were down from 19 to 11 seats in the Knesset and right now, they are at around 16 or 17. And since this war is supported by a very clear majority of more than 80 percent of the Israelis and since Ehud Barak is not only the chairman of the Labor Party but also the Minister of Defense, he's getting the credit for a war that seems to be the most just thing that Israel has been doing for a long time.

BLOCK: You mentioned the overwhelming popular support among the Israeli Jewish population for the war in Gaza, how much do you think that popular support will erode over time as the war goes on, as casualties mount on both sides, potentially?

Mr. ELDAR: Yeah, I - I think that this is what worries Ehud Barak who is in favor of ending this war now. He hopes that we can reach some kind of agreement and I've just heard that Prime Minister Haniyeh of the Hamas government is willing to reach a truce agreement with Israel. And I think this is what Barak is looking at right now because his supporters will not tolerate major fatalities, casualties in this war. And it seems that right now, the marginal advantage that you can gain from a few more days in Gaza is much less than what you can lose - both in the battlefield, losing the lives of soldiers and the international support. It seems that Israel would like to end this before President-elect Obama is sworn in. The common wisdom is that you don't want to start your relationship with the new administration with this kind of a risk and a conflict that will require the United States to tell Israel enough is enough.

BLOCK: So, that would anticipate that something would need to happen in the next week before January 20th?

Mr. ELDAR: Yeah, I believe that this is the deadline, the deadline for the end of this war is when Barack Obama will be sworn in.

BLOCK: So assuming there were to be some sort of agreement in the next week, or so, as you're describing, it would still leave in place Hamas in control of Gaza. Do you think the Israeli people would agree to that? Do they not think that there is a higher goal here that the end result of this would be that Hamas would be destroyed?

Mr. ELDAR: Well actually if you listen carefully to what even Prime Minister Olmert is saying who has been the tougher guy in this game, is that we don't expect to get rid of the Hamas regime. Actually, if you even - let's assume that we will be able to remove them from power, nobody expects Mahmoud Abbas and the Fatah to get back to Gaza riding Israeli tanks because this will not be tolerated by the Palestinian people. And you don't want the Gaza Strip to become a kind of no man's land lead by warlords. So, even though Hamas is a bad address, in the view of most Israeli, bad address is better than no address. Yes, we will have to live with Hamas hoping that we can go back to the truth regime that more or less was working in the last six months before this war started.

BLOCK: Well Mr. Eldar, thanks very much for talking with us.

Mr. ELDAR: Thank you so much and I hope that next time we'll talk about how we can reconstruct Gaza.

BLOCK: Akiva Eldar, Chief Political Analyst for the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz, in Jerusalem.

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