Israeli ferment as reformist leader wins labour election: Haim Ramon, a strong advocate of peace, is tipped as future prime minister after seizing control of trade union movement

A NEW era in Israeli politics has been ushered in this week by Haim Ramon, a young, populist dove and former cabinet minister, who is being widely tipped as a future prime minister after winning a labour federation election on a platform of social reform.

Mr Ramon's victory is expected to hasten a realignment in Israeli politics, in tandem with the country's progress towards peace.

Doves such as Mr Ramon have argued for some time that the peace process is now irreversible and Israel should, therefore, put domestic issues - rather than security - at the top of its agenda.

'After 45 years of war, with priorities dictated by security, he is saying peace is now an accomplished mission: let's look at the social agenda, at the economy and trade,' says Avraham Burg, another Labour Party dove.

To test his support, Mr Ramon defected from the ruling Labour Party last month, launching a daring challenge for leadership of the Histadrut, Israel's trade union leviathan and the bastion of the socialist conservatism which he seeks to reform. His message to the 1.6 million eligible voters was simple: Bolshevism and socialism must be consigned to Israel's dustbin of history; social democracy is the way of the future.

Yesterday's early results showed Mr Ramon had won at least 45 per cent of the vote, with Labour gaining only 33 per cent. The victory staggered commentators and shattered Labour which has dominated the Histradut since it was founded in 1920.

In 1996, the date of the next general elections, Israelis will vote directly for the prime minister, at the same time as parliamentary elections are held. Some commentators believe Mr Ramon is already planning then to challenge the Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, when the Labour veteran will be 74, and Mr Ramon will be 44. Others, however, believe Mr Ramon will hold off from a direct challenge for the leadership, concentrating first on building a new centre-left power bloc in the Knesset.

'Ramon is now clearly Mr Rabin's heir-apparent. He has taken over the most powerful political machine in the Middle East. It is a revolution in Israeli politics,' said Deniel Ben-Simon, political correspondent of Davar newspaper, which is associated with the Labour Party.

Mr Ramon's Histadrut victory illustrates how hungry many Israelis are for social reform. Before the state of Israel was founded the Histradut was established as a pillar of the new Zionist enterprise: a Jewish labour federation for Palestine.

David Ben-Gurion was general secretary of the Histradut before he became Israel's first prime minister. He said he envisaged the body as 'a kind of workers' state'. The Histradut emblem is still the hammer and sickle. Over the years the organisation has stretched tentacles into almost every walk of Israeli life, building an economic, social and political empire, representing the majority of workers, and controlling banks, factories and farms. Although its economic power has declined in recent years, its political clout remains enormous.

Israel, meanwhile, has been fast developing a 'me-generation' and a consumer orientated middle-class, which sees little use for such old- style egalitarian institutions. When, as health minister last year, Mr Ramon proposed removing the Histradut's monopoly of health insurance he won widespread popular support. 'What Ramon's reforms represent are a Thatcherite turning- point. She broke the miners' strike - and Ramon is breaking the Labour movement here,' says Mr Burg. 'Israel is going through the same battle that other countries have gone through - moving to social democracy. We are joining the club.'

While Mr Ramon has made social reforms his priority, he has often taken extremely dovish positions on the peace process. Mr Rabin has started the ball rolling towards Palestinian self-rule and it could be Mr Ramon who then picks it up and rolls it towards a Palestinian state. Mr Rabin has refused to countenance full Palestinian independence. But Mr Ramon has advocated statehood in the past, and, if he becomes prime minister, is more than likely to do so again.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: AV Installation Engineer

£27000 - £33000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to business growth, this is...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Care Support Workers

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Due to expansion, this care company base...

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager

£21000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent