Politics is a trait of advanced civilization. It allows dispute on the way to voting or some other way of deciding. Politics aspires to nonviolent resolutions of disagreements about who should be a leader, or what should be public policy.
Politics is not always pretty or admirable. Sometimes it reaches a level of the ridiculous that makes it entertaining in the mode of a Charlie Chaplin film. Politics is difficult and demanding. It is challenging to stand before a diverse population and claim the right to lead. Those who aspire to hold office may not tell all the truth, and may say things that are not true. We overlook such lapses in the morality applicable to a seminar or a living room, for a context in which politicians seek to include people with competing interests under their tent.
Democracy is better than the alternatives, but politics also moderates problems in autocratic regimes. Wise kings and dictators listen to advisers. Compromise is likely to be better in the long run than enlarging one''s list of enemies by killing or persecuting the opposition.
If politics is my religion, coping is the essence of my Supreme Being. It is often the problems without solution that find their way to the top of governmental agendas. It may be possible to imagine solutions, but they are not practical due to limits in technology, economic resources, or the intensity of political opposition likely to remain as far into the future as it is possible to see. A politician should never say "never," but an inability to find a solution heightens the value of coping.
Coping involves lowering expectations, dealing with a problem that can''t be solved by providing assistance to those who suffer, not inflaming passions by extreme measures, delaying decision, or promising more than can actually be delivered in the hope of reducing demands for "action now." Don''t make things worse is the principal theme in my hymnal.
Before accusing me of blasphemy, check out these references in the Hebrew Bible showing that God also coped. He instructed Moses to tell Pharaoh that he only wanted to lead the Hebrews to the desert for an occasion of prayer (Exodus 9-10). Later He told Moses to detour around a powerful tribe on his way through the desert (Exodus 13:17). God also wagered with the Devil about Job, and then compensated Job with additional children in the final chapter (42), without bringing back to life the children killed in the first chapter.
The Pope may claim infallibility, but the Jews'' God should not claim omnipotence.
Two events on Israel''s agenda provoke these lofty thoughts about politics and coping. One is the run up to the election scheduled for January 22nd, and the second is Palestine''s achievement of some degree of statehood in the UN General Assembly.
Election campaigns, especially the preliminary stages, are more likely to entertain than to solve anything. A wide range of candidates elevate themselves, get exposure and then embarrassment as the competition shows them to be unworthy of reaching a position of leadership. Competing to obtain a party''s nomination or victory in a final election are admirable but risky exercises. Good government may require turnover. Israelis who began a campaign to push 89 year old Shimon Peres to head a political party (for the nth time in a long career), went beyond even his competitive juices. Ego is essential, but so is a thick skin.
Noam Shalit announced his candidacy for a place on Labor''s Knesset ticket, apparently to capitalize on his prominence during several years'' efforts to free his son Gilad from captivity in Gaza. Noam Shalit was an impressive and effective figurehead for a campaign staffed by public relations professionals. However, he announced political intentions long before the campaign for the next Knesset got underway, and sunk into the flood of other aspirants and the efforts of sitting MK''s to obtain another term.
Tsipi Livni''s governmental and political experience dwarfs that of Noam Shalit, but she invited the virtually unanimous ridicule of the country''s political commentators by the manner in which she dithered and delayed announcing her candidacy, came close to uniting with other old campaigners tarnished by convictions for criminal offenses, and then became the third head of a party claiming to represent the center or center-left of the political spectrum, competing with admirable platitudes as ways to solve a host of difficult problems
. Livni, calling her new party "The Movement led by Tsipi Livni," Yair Lapid, calling his "There is a future," and Shelli Yehimovich the head of the Labor Party sought to unite their forces, but none of them would agree to become #2 on someone else''s list.
One poll show those three parties dividing votes worth 33 Knesset seats, Likud our Home winning 39 seats and its likely coalition partners on the right winning another 24
. Another poll shows 33 percent favoring Netanyahu as Prime Minister, and only 12, 7 and 4 percents favoring Yehimovich, Livni and Lapid, respectively
. Yehimovich and Lapid, but not Livni, have indicated an openness to coalesce with Netanyahu.
Livni''s speech announcing the formation of her new party was impressive enough to earn her a future as a political commentator with a distinguished media outlet or an honorary professorship at a leading university. However, her record frittering away the leadership of the country''s largest party in 2009 by refusing to tarnish her purity by coalescing with objectionable partners marked her as unsuitable for the messy give and take that is inherent in politics.
Ehud Olmert has also dithered, and may continue doing so up until the final date for enrolling parties and fixing their lists of candidates. Current signs are that he and Tsipi could not agree on a union, and he has gone back as a senior advisor to Kadima, his own and Tsipi''s former party which just about everyone else has abandoned, and may fall below the minimum number of votes to re-enter the Knesset.
The other show prominent in our political theater is the Palestinians'' achievement of statehood via the UN General Assembly.
Israel lost its campaign, along with the United States, to sidetrack the Palestinian initiative, or to persuade leading countries to oppose the move or at least to abstain, on the ground that statehood for Palestinians should be achievable only via negotiations with Israel. We are hearing that European governments decided to support the Palestinians, at least partly to endorse the moderate leadership of Mahmoud Abbas.
Abbas should be admired by a frequent assertions that the way forward is via politics and not by violence. His UN gambit is political, but it will obtain the cheap, quick, and superficial award of something less than a recognized state instead of negotiating for the best deal achievable with Israel. In this, Abbas is repeating his own failure as a negotiator with former Prime Minister Olmert, and Yassir Arafat''s failure with the combination of Prime Minister Ehud Barak and US President Bill Clinton. Signs are that the present government of Prime Minister Netanyahu would not offer a deal as good as Olmert or Barak-Clinton, and Abbas took the easy road of declaring pompous and unattainable preconditions as his price of negotiating.
Palestinians began celebrating victory hours before the UN vote. Abbas has been honored by political leaders of many countries as the great hope of Palestine and the two-state solution.
The fourth anniversary of Abbas'' presidential term''s expiration (January 2009) will pass without congratulations or celebrations. The Palestinians of the West Bank have continued with Abbas without benefit of an election. The Palestinians of Gaza view Hamas member, Aziz Duwaik, the Speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council, as President pending an election
Palestine represents the best example of an unsolved problem that has been on Israel''s agenda since the beginning. Prominent among Israel''s recent coping techniques is to deal with periodic upticks in terror without the military onslaught that would be possible, but would cause Israel problems with Western democracies and might arouse powerful Muslim countries to threaten serious action.
Israel does as much propping up of Abbas'' regime as any country. It has announced that it will not punish it for the initiative in the UN, and it has paid the most recent amount of taxes it collects on goods passing through its ports for Palestine, without reducing the amount for the substantial sums owed to Israel for electricity. Palestine''s electric bill is somewhere around $200 million. Israel''s continuing with the juice without getting the money makes it one of Palestine''s major sources of financial assistance
. Israel is also trying a amorphous solution for the problem of Gaza (you be quiet and we''ll be quiet). While it may seem to be insulting Abbas by entering his cities to make arrests, the people it nabs are disproportionately his political enemies.
Coping may not be pretty or elegant, but its test is holding off something worse. Coping does not assure political bliss, but its practitioners realize that there is no such thing. Essential to coping is knowing what is appropriate today, trying not to do something that will spoil tomorrow, and recognizing that the distant future is beyond one''s capacity to predict or control.
Coping may entail arguments about what can or cannot be solved in the near future by forceful action that may be dangerous.
Currently, that seems to be what is going on in connection with Iran''s nuclear program.
Uncertainty is the fate of observers expecting that policymakers are working in secret, trying to decide about an awesome problem that may be insoluble.