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Rafi Eitan, who heads Gil, the Pensioners' Party, is not waiting for the coalition to be formed to start keeping his promises to those who voted for his party. Less than a week after the election surprise that brought Eitan and six other members of the Gil Party to the Knesset, he has already met with senior Finance Ministry officials to see how the plight of over 200,000 pensioners can be improved.
"Each and every one of them should receive an increment of a few hundred shekels. We have to make things easier for pensioners where medications and the health basket are concerned," he told me. "I have already looked into these two subjects and it will come to only about a billion shekels this year."
Eitan, who has thrown his support behind Ehud Olmert for prime minister, knows that his new party, which won spectacularly in the elections, can be part of any coalition. That is why he is wasting no time and already looking into how he can alleviate the terrible suffering of the pensioners, who are either abused or ignored by the government's decaying bureaucracy.
Perhaps Eitan will be appointed minister of pensioners. In that case, it is fairly certain that he will also be a member of the security cabinet, in light of his enormous experience in this area.
Because of the laziness and ignorance prevalent among Israeli journalists, every time Eitan's name has been mentioned over the past 20 years, he has immediately been labeled the person "responsible for the Jonathan Pollard espionage fiasco in the United States."
So they either didn't know, or didn't want to tell the public, that before the failure of the Pollard affair Eitan, now 79, had been one of the most successful intelligence commanders Israel ever had, in either the Shin Bet or the Mossad.
After taking responsibility for running Pollard and resigning from his governmental jobs, he went into business around the world and prospered. He is a very active pensioner who wants for nothing financially.
IN EVERYTHING he has done and in all positions he has held, Eitan has been a man of national responsibility. When Pollard was arrested in Washington 20 years ago, then prime minister Shimon Peres and defense minister Yitzhak Rabin feared the affair would lead to a crisis in Israel's relations with the United States.
At a secret meeting of the security cabinet, of which minister of industry and trade Ariel Sharon was also a member, Sharon implored Peres and Rabin to tell the American administration the truth: "Admit that Rafi Eitan was working with your authorization, apologize for the espionage and promise the administration that Israel will never do this again in the United States."
Rabin and Peres, along with deputy prime minister Yitzhak Shamir, rejected Sharon's proposal. Peres told the US that Pollard had carried out a rogue operation - without the permission or knowledge of the government. It was easy for Peres to lie and make this official statement because Rafi Eitan agreed to take full responsibility for the affair, thereby absolving the government.
The government wanted to throw Eitan to the dogs. But Sharon knew Eitan, his abilities and achievements. He also knew that Eitan was covering up for Peres and Rabin. So he decided to appoint Eitan chairman of Israel Chemicals, notwithstanding Peres's protests.
TWO MONTHS ago, Eitan, who has been my friend these 45 years, asked me if I thought there was any point in him running for the Knesset at the head of a Pensioners Party, after he had been approached to do so. "Hundreds of thousands of retirees live in great suffering," he told me. "Somebody has to look out for them."
"Run, Rafi run," I immediately responded. "You will succeed where others have failed because of your tremendous experience and your reputation as a master spy. In the current fragile political situation you could be the factor that tips the scales. Politicians of all parties will come crawling to you. That is what can make it possible for you to help those unfortunate seniors."
To help make that happen, I immediately contributed the permitted amount of NIS 1,900.
But even in our wildest dreams we never expected to get more than two Knesset members. Who could stand up to the inundation of millions of dollars wasted by the other parties in the election campaign? How was it possible to sell the voters a newborn party made up of pensioners when most of the media were exulting over the spurious surveys put out by the parties' spinmeisters, polls that did not even mention the Pensioners Party?
Nor did the media report on the public debates Eitan held with senior representatives of the large parties, in which Eitan consistently prevailed. It is a fact that most of the politicians elected to the Knesset will never even come close to knowing what Eitan has forgotten.
IT IS CLEAR that the massive support received by Eitan and the other members of his party is the result of a protest vote on the part of many thousands of people, young and not so young. With their votes they have proved that they are good people sensitive to the suffering of others, people who had the good sense not to believe the promises made by the other parties on their lying radio and television broadcasts. Instead they looked for a party with a positive message.
Rafi Eitan and his pensioners seemed like the right address - and so they voted for the Pensioners Party instead of casting a blank ballot or joining the large number of people too disgusted with the current political situation to even go to vote.
That too is evidence of a healthy reaction on the part of the nation, and of the very unhealthy situation of Israeli politics, which has only gotten worse since Ariel Sharon disappeared from the nation's leadership.
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