Analysis: A watershed event?

Will the release of the Winograd report be the national catharsis that sweeps away the old order?

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April 30, 2007 01:27
3 minute read.
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This was supposed to be the great watershed moment, a national catharsis in which all the pent-up anger and frustration over the Second Lebanon War would finally be let free and sweep away the entire old order. Rebels within Kadima were going to grow themselves a backbone and depose Ehud Olmert. In Labor, Amir Peretz's fate was to be sealed. It and the other parties forming the coalition were to demand a change. Even the Likud and Meretz were to bridge the ideological divide between them and act together in bringing down the government. Outside the Knesset, public protest would rise in a tidal wave, threatening to engulf the politicians if they didn't get a move on. Will any of this happen Monday after Eliahu Winograd presents the first part of his panel's report on the war? Right now it seems that the storm will be postponed somewhat. If the eve-of-publication mood in the corridors of power and on the streets of Jerusalem is anything to go by, there is little excitement, save for the manifold preparations of the TV channels to turn the Winograd show into a major spectacle. Meanwhile Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who has made little effort in recent weeks to hide the fact that she is interested in replacing Olmert, is still waiting for the moment to wield the political knife. Most of the other Kadima ministers are still, at least in public, backing Olmert. Despite a great deal of unrest, there isn't a critical mass of rebellion within the party. Peretz took most of the sting out of the Winograd report three weeks ago when he announced that it had been a mistake for him to accept the Defense portfolio and that, in the future, he would be demanding the Treasury. Since virtually nobody believes he can win his party's leadership primary in four weeks, he's out of a job anyway. Until a new leader is installed, there will be no decision on Labor's future within the coalition. Neither do the three other parties in the coalition, Shas, Israel Beiteinu and the Pensioners, have any incentive to leave. Their leaders currently enjoy a significant share of power and realize that, in elections anytime soon, they would suffer at the hands of the electorate. They won't be the ones to shake Olmert's throne. Neither is the opposition proving very effective, with Meretz's Yossi Beilin deciding on Sunday not to participate in Thursday's planned anti-government demonstration, with the explanation that it is a right-wing dominated event. Ironically, it is being organized by former general Uzi Dayan, who is left-of-center in his views, but it doesn't really matter, since it's hard anyway to remember a time in Israeli politics when the opposition was as ineffectual as at present. Its leader, Binyamin Netanyahu, might be the most popular politician right now in the polls, but as the head of a party with only 12 MKs, there's precious little he can do with his ratings. Even he isn't sure yet whether he wants to be identified with Thursday's demonstration. Which brings us back to the public. The polls show that disillusionment with the current government is all but universal, but where are the masses? The wave of protests in the first weeks after the war quickly faded, the reservists going back to their homes and jobs and the bereaved families concentrating on their grief. What chance is there now of a different outcome out on the streets? The size of Thursday's demonstration in Tel Aviv's Rabin Square will be an important indication, but it will probably take more than that to force the politicians to do something quickly. Veteran activists complain about the public's apathy and claim that we have become an insular society in which few are prepared to act upon their convictions. They hark back to the days after the 1973 Yom Kippur War when the public anger at the great failure forced prime minister Golda Meir to resign. Another historical fact less often mentioned is that despite the widespread criticism, Meir had gone on to win a general election two months after the war. She resigned only three and a half months later, despite the fact that the Agranat Commission had found her decisions during the war justified. The public's anger was too great to withstand. This time around, it's also too early to count out the Israeli public, but it might take a while.

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