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Ehud Olmert's Kadima Party is on the skids. The weekend opinion polls showed that if elections were held today, the Likud would win 29 Knesset seats while Kadima, which now controls the government with 29 seats, would fall to 12 seats. But elections are anything but a foregone conclusion, and if his colleagues have their way, his political destruction will not bring about elections but simply pave the way for their ascension to power, just as Ariel Sharon's massive stroke paved Olmert's path to the premiership.
Indeed, this week Olmert's two principal deputies, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Strategic Affairs Minister Avigdor Lieberman, were veritably basking in the heat of his political infernos. Both used their photo-ops with visiting US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to present themselves to the Israeli public as Olmert's rightful heirs - the leaders with the big ideas and the international cachet that we can turn to in our hour of need.
On the face of it, Livni is best positioned to seize the reins of leadership. If Olmert is forced out of office, as vice premier Livni is legally the next in line. And as the inevitability of Olmert's political demise has sunken in, supported by much of the local media, Livni has been priming the public to accept her as Olmert's replacement. The media constantly reminds us that unlike many of her party and coalition colleagues, Livni is not suspected of having committed any criminal felonies and so, we are led to believe, we should be relieved to have her in charge. Her 51-percent job approval rating versus Olmert's 14-percent approval rating indicates that the public has bought this line of thinking.
BUT DO we really want her to lead us? In Livni's press appearance with Rice Saturday night she was asked whether she supports moving ahead with Palestinian statehood before the Palestinians end their involvement in terrorism, in contravention of the principal guideline of the US-backed road map peace plan. Livni's response illustrated at once her unique rhetorical skills and the unmatched analytical acumen she brings to bear today as Israel's chief diplomat.
In her words, "And but yes, I do and I was not talking about jumping or skipping or bypassing some of the phases of the road map, but I do believe that talking with the Palestinians today what are the best steps that we can take and maybe to make some visions or some - what we say the political horizon more concrete if this can help, so this is something that we have to do. But there's a difference and we can distinguish talking with the Palestinians and implementing parts one before the other, and I believe that this is the difference maybe and maybe the kind of misunderstanding that was in the understanding of talking or implementing the phases in a different order."
It is not simply that this statement is garbled to the point of incoherence. It is not simply that Livni uses phrases and watchwords like "some visions" and "political horizons" and "misunderstanding that was in the understanding" in an attempt to cover up cognitive foolishness and disconnect from reality.
There is the pretension of know-it-all snobbery running through this - and indeed every statement that Livni makes - which demonstrates that Livni is altogether convinced that her grand designs for Palestinian statehood are so grand and designer that she will never allow the reality of the total Palestinian commitment to Israel's destruction to disturb her.
INDEED TWO days before Livni made this incomprehensible statement, Fatah terror organization and Palestinian Authority chief Mahmoud Abbas, on whom she pins all her hopes, told a rally in Ramallah that the "moderate" Palestinians in Fatah must understand that it is their job was to continue to kill Israelis. In his words, "We will not give up our principles and we have said that rifles should be directed against the occupation."
Saturday night's question to Livni about her view of the road map was a reasonable one. Late last month she outlined her vision for Israel's future in an interview with Haaretz. There she expressed her total commitment to establishing a Palestinian state as soon as possible. In her view, establishing a Palestinian state is a much more important priority for Israel than neutralizing the burgeoning Iranian nuclear threat to Israel. And to this end, she broadly intimated, she believes that it is in Israel's interest to hand Judea and Samaria over to Hamas and Fatah after first ethnically cleansing the areas of all Jewish presence.
And, by Livni's telling, this massive empowerment of terrorists and evisceration of Israeli societal cohesion would be nothing more than a first move toward the ultimate settlement of the Palestinian conflict with Israel. A final settlement would also include the ceding of parts of Jerusalem and facilitating the entry of millions of foreign-born Arabs dedicated to Israel's annihilation into the rump Palestinian terror state in Judea, Samaria and Gaza.
As to Iran, Livni sees no real reason for concern. She insists that due to her diplomatic brilliance, Israel won the war against Iran's Lebanese army Hizbullah last summer. Livni proclaims Israel's victory even as both the IDF and the US Director of National Intelligence and Rice's incoming deputy John Negroponte, have admitted that Hizbullah has rebuilt its forces to pre-war levels and is widely perceived as having won the war, to the detriment of Israel's strategic posture.
IN SPEAKING of Iran itself, Livni sounds more like a detached international relations professor sitting in Berkeley or Boston than the politician responsible for Israel's international relations. As she sees it, the biggest problem with Iran's nuclear weapons program is that it is liable to set off a regional arms race where lots of countries will try to get the bomb.
That is, her principal concern is not that Israel is first on Iran's list of declared targets for nuclear annihilation. That, she explains, is really beside the point. And anyway, it isn't Israel's problem - it's the whole world's problem; and thanks to her, the whole world is unifying to stop Iran from getting the A-bomb.
BUT THEN, Livni wasn't the only cabinet minister pushing the notion of herself as Olmert's heir. Lieberman did too. Although the Likud has been leading in the polls for six months, Lieberman joined the government in early November to both prevent elections and so block the Likud's ascension to leadership, and to build his own credibility in a bid to replace the Likud with his Yisrael Beitenu party as the largest center-right party in Israeli politics.
Lieberman projects himself as the anti-Livni - the sane voice in the government that will curb her radical leftist tendencies. But is this true? Is he a sane voice?
At the beginning of the month, Lieberman assailed Livni's plan to give the Palestinians a state before they renounce their plans to destroy Israel. But then he unveiled his big idea. Lieberman understands that Israel is a frontline state in the global jihad. But since this is a global jihad, he has determined that Israel's best bet is to join the European Union.
In his words, "Israel's diplomatic and security goal... must be clear: joining NATO and entering the European Union." In his photo-op with Rice, Lieberman expounded on his big idea that NATO and the EU will now take Israel under their wing. Israel, he said, must reoccupy Gaza to end its transformation into a new hub for global jihad. But after Israel invades Gaza, NATO should send 30,000 soldiers into Gaza to take over security from Israel.
Just as Livni, in advancing her idea of giving Judea and Samaria to Fatah and Hamas, ignores the fact that Fatah and Hamas are not interested in peace with Israel, so Lieberman in advancing his plan to subsume Israeli sovereignty into EU and NATO membership pays no attention to the nature of these groups. He ignores the fact that the central guiding principle of EU foreign policy is support for the Palestinians - including Hamas - in their bid to destroy Israel. And he seems to overlook the fact that US leadership of NATO did not prevent NATO members France, Belgium, Germany and Turkey from doing everything they could to prevent the US from defeating Saddam Hussein in 2003.
After ascending to his accidental premiership when Ariel Sharon was felled by his stroke last year, Olmert was able to win the elections last March by disguising his radical leftist and strategically stillborn plan to transfer Judea and Samaria to Fatah and Hamas as "pragmatism." In his efforts he was ably assisted by the media, which hid Gaza's post-withdrawal transformation into a base for global terrorism from the public.
So in their presentation of themselves as competent alternatives to Olmert, Livni and Lieberman are simply following in his footsteps. They know that if they offer policies to the public that deny the reality of war and so lead the public to believe that Israel does not have to fight that war, they will receive the support of the pacifist media and be well positioned to win the elections without ever having to actually defend their positions.
What becomes clear, then, is that if Israel is to emerge successfully from its real strategic challenges it needs to rid itself not only of Olmert, but of all his heirs apparent. For this to happen, his government must fall with him, and we must proceed to general elections.