Analysis: A year after the election, the government is being marginalized

Increasing power now rests with legal officials, ex-judges.

By
March 27, 2007 23:49
4 minute read.

 
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Politicians, confronted with uncomfortable poll results, usually shrug them off with the excuse that a poll is merely a snapshot of the public's mood at a given moment, not to be compared with the outcome of a nationwide election following a comprehensive political campaign. This is a valid point, but what happens when the real elections are themselves little more than a public mood snapshot? March 28, a year after, and the 2006 election seems like a passing fancy. The public now looks at the Knesset and the government it voted for, and can hardly believe its eyes. It's like a party-goer waking up the morning after, painfully sober, and faced with the photographs. Did I really wear that outfit? What did I do to my hair? And who are those people I was hanging out with? Israelis are coming out of their collective hangover and they sure as hell don't like the look of the leadership they chose for themselves. We rarely have been overly fond of our politicians, but it's hard to recall a time when the disillusionment was so strong. Perhaps in the long aftermath of the Yom Kippur War, but maybe not even then; after all, that government still managed to get reelected, despite everything that had happened. Today we're stuck with the most unpopular prime minister in the state's history, a defense minister who even his remaining supporters admit should never have taken the job, a finance minister with an alleged knack of attracting large sums of funny money to his personal bank account, and a parliament incapable of removing a president about to indicted on multiple charges of sexual assault. And that is just the top of the list. Only a year ago, in a fit of national pique, the voters deserted the traditional ruling parties, Likud and Labor, in droves, which together received only a quarter of the vote. Instead they opted for instant parties with unproven or even artificial manifestos and hollow hierarchies like Kadima, Israel Beiteinu and the Gil Pensioners Party. Despite the polls showing healthy ratings for Binyamin Netanyahu's Likud, it's still much too early to say whether the electorate is ready for a return to the old order. Especially as no one knows who will be leading Labor and Kadima into the next election or has any idea when they might be held. It could be by the end of the year, but conceivably we might not go to the ballot box for three and a half years; ironically, this discredited administration is based on a surprisingly stable coalition. While the public's intentions are to a great degree still inscrutable, the establishment as a whole has accustomed itself to working with a dysfunctional government. In many areas, power has shifted from our elected representatives to a range of appointed authorities. A single official, Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz, will determine the future of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Finance Minister Avraham Hirchson, President Moshe Katsav and a host of other senior politicians when he decides whether to indict them on assorted corruption allegations. Other unelected members of the legal establishment who have stepped into the governance vacuum include two former district court judges, Eliahu Winograd, who also holds the political fates of Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz in his hands as chairman of the committee investigating the Second Lebanon War, and of course Micha Lindenstrauss, who makes no secret of his ambition to transform the State Comptroller's Office into a bona fide "fourth branch" of government. Other organs of state are also exhibiting exceptional independence. Twice over the last week and a half, the IDF reached arrangements with settlers in the West Bank without consulting its minister, Peretz. In both cases - the army's acquiescence to settlers moving into a newly purchased building in Hebron and the compromise that allowed the settlers and their supporters to march unhindered to Homesh - Peretz found out too late to do anything to change the deals even if he'd wanted to. Other ministers who are having trouble getting their way are Public Defense Minister Avi Dichter, whose plans to appoint a new police inspector-general have been frustrated; Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann, whose radical plans to shake up the courts system are being nipped in the bud by the judicial elite, and Interior Minister Roni Bar-On, who failed for months to solve the problem of local council workers' pay. And of course, with Hirchson under intense police investigation, the omnipotent "Treasury boys" are more powerful than ever. As it is, the economy is almost totally removed from the government's vicissitudes; it's flourishing despite the war, the allegations against the country's leaders and the corruption case in the Tax Authority. Without fanfare, a kind of coup d'etat by officialdom is taking place. The government has become increasingly irrelevant and the competent departments and agencies have taken over. It might be three more years before a new government is voted in, but a year after its election, the current government, to a considerable extent, has already lost power.

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