That Likud and Kadima are still nearly tied in the polls is astounding when you consider their respective leaders' records. One, despite known flaws, has racked up several impressive successes in previous posts. The other has amassed an unbroken string of failures.
To understand the extent of Tzipi Livni's failures, all you need to do is read her own words. Asked to describe her achievements in an interview in last Friday's Haaretz, she began by repeatedly citing the 2005 disengagement from Gaza: "I enabled the disengagement, thanks to the Livni compromise," which reconciled reluctant ministers to the plan. "I led the disengagement legislation and processes regarding the settlers... I led and advanced the idea of communal resettlement for the evacuees."
The disengagement was supposed to enhance our security, prospects for peace and international goodwill. Instead, just as opponents predicted, it bolstered Hamas, since Palestinians perceived it as a victory for terror. Hamas consequently won the 2006 Palestinian Authority elections, depriving Israel of a competent negotiating partner. Livni has been negotiating with Mahmoud Abbas anyway, but since he cannot actually deliver on any agreement, this is the worst of all worlds: talks in which we make real concessions without any possibility of obtaining a quid pro quo.
Moreover, the volume of rocket fire on Israel more than tripled post-disengagement, as did the rockets' range: Hamas can now hit Ashdod, Beersheba and Gedera. Indeed, the daily fire became so intolerable that Livni's own government just waged a war in an effort (thus far unsuccessful) to suppress it. And that war, which the pullout necessitated, brought anti-Israel and anti-Semitic sentiment to record heights.
Finally, adding insult to injury, Livni's "legislation and processes" proved so cumbersome that more than three years later, not one settler who requested communal resettlement has yet moved into a permanent home. Indeed, most people consider disengagement such a failure that Kadima had to shelve its plan to replicate it in the West Bank.
LIVNI ALSO boasted of her role in the Second Lebanon War: "I created the idea of a diplomatic exit... I formulated [Security Council] Resolution 1701." That resolution created an international force to patrol southern Lebanon and prevent Hizbullah from rearming. Yet under its aegis, Hizbullah has rearmed so effectively that it now has more than three times as many rockets as it did before the 2006 war.
On Iran's nuclear program, Livni proclaimed: "Israel has acted and continues to act on the Iranian issue. We succeeded in getting the message across." Indeed, the world got the message so well that it refused to impose any sanctions stiff enough to have an impact. Consequently, Iran now has 30 times as many working centrifuges as it did when Kadima took office in 2006, and intelligence estimates put it only months away from enough fuel for its first nuclear bomb.
Finally, when the interviewer accused her of being "in politics for 10 years without having chalked up genuine achievements," she indignantly replied that she had served as director-general of the Government Companies Authority and held "six different ministerial portfolios," including "justice minister, construction minister and absorption minister." But aside from boasting of her role in the disengagement and her (completely ineffectual) "struggle with the Supreme Court" as justice minister, she declined to list any actual accomplishments in any of these positions. Possibly that is because she could not think of any. I certainly cannot.
In short, after 10 years in politics, the only "achievements" Livni could cite were utter disasters: the disengagement, Resolution 1701, the failed effort to halt Iran's nuclear program. If these are her successes, I shudder to think what her failures would look like.
STILL, WAS not Binyamin Netanyahu just as bad? Popular memory might say so. But popular memory is wrong.
As prime minister in 1996-99, Netanyahu had two signal achievements. First, he slashed the rampant deficits inherited from Yitzhak Rabin, laying the groundwork for rapid economic growth in subsequent years. Second, he reduced the devastating Palestinian terror he inherited by a whopping 70 percent: Fatalities dropped from 211 in 1993-96 to 63 in 1996-99.
He also had significant achievements in other ministerial posts. As foreign minister, he was widely considered one of the most articulate spokesmen Israel ever had. And as finance minister, he crafted a recovery program that not only extricated the country from a deep recession, but gave it five straight years of 5 percent growth.
So why is he nevertheless remembered as a failure? One reason is character. For instance, despite correctly predicting every negative consequence of the disengagement, he lacked the courage to quit the government until it was too late to make any difference. That is a real concern and, under other circumstances, might be reason to vote against him.
But not when his rival is someone whose record shows that she cannot even tell the difference between good policies and bad - because that is the fundamental prerequisite for being able to implement good ones. Netanyahu, as his record shows, can tell the difference. And, as his record also shows, he therefore will implement some good policies, even if he lacks the courage to implement others. Livni, in contrast, will implement no good policies - because there is no way to implement good policy if you cannot identify it first.
The second reason, of course, is that voters repudiated Netanyahu once, in 1999. Unfortunately, people forget that this repudiation stemmed largely from his failure to solve the conflict with the Palestinians, which many still considered possible back then. Hence Ehud Barak was able to win by promising to do so. Today, most people realize that no prime minister will solve the conflict. The best any premier can do is successfully manage it - which Netanyahu did during his last term.
Like all Israelis, I would prefer a perfect premier. But in reality, the choices are Livni or Netanyahu. The former has an unbroken record of failure in every position she ever held. The latter, despite his flaws, has recorded substantial achievements in every position he ever held. To me, that is a no-brainer.