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The Talmudic sage Rabbi Yohanan said in the tractate Bava Batra that when the Temple was destroyed, prophecy was taken from the prophets and given to fools and children.
Never was that statement truer than in Israel in 5765 when the newspapers were full of false prophecies. Foolish Israeli reporters made countless predictions about what would happen politically in the past year and emerged with egg on their faces.
Had the press been correct, Israel would currently be in the midst of a civil war, recovering from a political big bang and another round of elections. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon would have been long gone, thrown away like last year's etrog, and Binyamin Netanyahu would currently be forming a government full of rightists and rebels.
Instead, disengagement came and went, the government is surprisingly stable, and Sharon is boasting that he could last until November 7, 2006, and become only the third Israeli prime minister to complete an entire term in office.
In a tribute to the year that wasn't, and with hopes that the press will do better this year, The Jerusalem Post presents the Top 10 political false prophecies of 5765.
1) Disengagement will erupt in violence
For months, the newspapers were filled with screaming headlines warning that the settlers of the Gaza Strip would violently resist the withdrawal, soldiers and settlers would spar, and Gush Katif would become one big caged wrestling match.
What was predicted to be a civil war turned out to be only a war of colors. Supporters and opponents of disengagement faced off with orange and blue ribbons and bracelets instead of black and blue fists and faces. The settlers showed restraint, the soldiers displayed sensitivity and the people of Israel proved once again that they could overcome even the most debilitating divide.
2) The Likud will split and Sharon will form a new party
Lots of newspaper ink and plenty of money for public opinion polls were wasted on the so-called political big bang - an idea hatched by Labor's Haim Ramon that never had a chance to begin with. According to Ramon's theory, Likud, Labor and Shinui would unite to form a mega-centrist party that could govern without the extremists. Alternatively, in a scaled-down version of the prediction, Sharon would split from the Likud and form a centrist party on his own.
These ideas died two weeks ago when the Likud central committee rejected an effort to advance the party primary. The Likud still has some healing to do, but the party is now expected to run as one, with hawks and doves side-by-side in the 2006 election.
3) The election will be moved up to 2005, immediately after disengagement
Sharon might be the most eulogized man in history. Even while the Hebrew press was protecting the prime minister, it was predicting his downfall the moment the last soldier left the Gaza Strip. No one remembers now that Ma'ariv political columnist Dan Margalit called upon Sharon to resign because of his friendship with a farmer named Shimon Cohen, the father-in-law of freed captive Elhanan Tannenbaum.
For a while the conventional wisdom shifted the expected date of the election to June, 2006, three months after the expected downfall of the budget. But as long as Shimon Peres wins the Labor leadership race, compromises on the budget are likely to be reached and Sharon may very well succeed in avoiding an early election.
4) Bibi will succeed in advancing the Likud primary
Shimon Peres famously stated that polls were like perfume - nice to smell and terrible to drink. Netanyahu chugged down his share of them ahead of the September 26 vote on whether to move up the Likud primary, and the press ended up intoxicated. A Sharon loss would have set up a Likud leadership race in November, a general election in March and possibly a political realignment.
Likud central committee members saw the polls, but they also saw other surveys that warned that a Likud split could bring the party down from 40 mandates to 14. With some 400 Likud central committee members expected to run for the Knesset, they decided not to jeopardize their chance at fame and fortune. Sharon won a narrow victory and declared it a victory for his ideology.
5) Sharon will shift rightward immediately after disengagement to win Likud votes
The press is so used to politicians who play ping pong with their political views that when a prime minister decides to be consistent for a while, it's considered a big surprise. Netanyahu decided to shift from the image he had adopted as an apolitical Treasury civil servant and garb himself in hawk's clothing in time for the Likud leadership race. The press expected Sharon to do the same as soon as the Gaza Strip withdrawal was complete.
But Sharon likes doing the opposite of what everyone thinks he is going to do. He spoke in Hebrew to the UN General Assembly and dared to talk about further territorial concessions to the Palestinians just a week ahead of the crucial vote in the Likud.
6) Bibi will lead the struggle against disengagement
Whenever the Likud rebels met in the Knesset they would be asked when Netanyahu would finally join them and become their leader. Netanyahu threatened to quit once but Yasser Arafat's death allowed him to come down from the tall tree he had climbed.
Netanyahu got around to quitting only when it was impossible to stop the Gaza Strip withdrawal from happening. Uzi Landau ended up leading the struggle against disengagement in the Knesset. The battle was lost when Landau was abroad and the rebels decided without him to adopt Netanyahu's idea of focusing on obtaining a national referendum instead of stopping the budget and toppling the government.
7) Uzi Landau will quit the Likud leadership race
When Uzi Landau announced his candidacy for the Likud leadership, all the questions in the press conference were about when he intended to quit the race. It was considered a foregone conclusion that he would eventually endorse Netanyahu and unite with him in an attempt to defeat Sharon.
Not only did Landau not quit, his campaign has consistently gained strength. The more his campaign is taken seriously, the more Likudniks decide that they want a candidate who they can count on to protect the land of Israel. A poll two weeks ago showed that Landau could beat Netanyahu one-on-one. An endorsement by Miami Beach millionaire Irving Moskowitz last week and a successful US fundraising trip this week should help.
8) Sharon will be convicted
Between the Greek Island Affair, the Cyril Kern scandal, Sharon's dealings with David Appel and misadventures with non-profit organizations, it seemed obvious that the law would eventually catch up to the prime minister.
Sharon has emerged unscathed so far, but it might eventually come out why Sharon has insisted on controlling the powerful Israel Lands Authority no matter what job he has had in the cabinet. One book suggested that Sharon pushed the disengagement to avoid prosecution. But the main reason Sharon is still clear is because his sons know how to protect him, and one Omri was even indicted for an alleged crime that didn't stick to his father.
9) The Labor Party is doomed
During the entire time that a split was predicted in the Likud, no one said that the Likud would die. But Labor's imminent demise has been predicted for years as its membership ages and Peres succeeds in stifling generation after generation of younger contenders.
But the race for Labor's ministerial portfolios proved that there is a younger generation ready to take over for Shimon Peres, whether it's in four years or 40. The victories of Interior Minister Ophir Paz-Pines, Construction and Housing Minister Isaac Herzog and Environment Minister Shalom Simhon gave new life to Labor and hope for its future.
10) Ehud Barak will take the Labor race by fax
This headline came from Barak's greatest fan - Barak himself - and it was adopted by the Hebrew press amid the temporary euphoria over his return to politics. The press accepted Barak's political spin that Labor members would realize that he is the only man alive today who has beaten the Likud and he should therefore get a chance to do it again.
But Laborites saw through Barak's attempt to piggyback on them to the Prime Minister's Office. Without holding public office, Barak was forced to grab a microphone and call press conferences ad nauseam to attract attention. He went from calling Shimon Peres a loser to endorsing him in a matter of months, and now there is a chance that he won't even get elected to the next Knesset.
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