In the days, even hours, leading up to Moshe Katsav's election as Israel's eighth president in July 2000, Israel's political analysts unanimously predicted that he'd lose.
This despite the fact that there were only two candidates and the entire electorate numbered just 120 the members of Knesset, about whose habits and preferences we all know rather more than we could ever wish to.
Not remotely humbled by their absolute failure to correctly call this most straightforward of head-to-heads, those same analysts, as soon as Katsav had prevailed over that perennial hopeful, Shimon Peres, promptly took to explaining to us all precisely why, sure, clearly, of course, Katsav had triumphed, and how Shas had obviously merely been pretending when it said it would support Peres's candidacy.
Further evidence of the analysts' continuing disinclination to humility was provided this week when, confounding the polls, the expert assessments and, it must be said, the gloomy prognoses even of some of those closest to him, Ariel Sharon bulldozed his path to victory in the Likud leadership showdown silenced at the microphone by who knows which gang of sermon saboteurs but apparently perfectly audible over previous days in countless telephone calls to Likud council heads and local branch activists nationwide.
My record, I should acknowledge at this point, is not especially distinguished either. For instance, I would, honestly, have confidently told Sharon ahead of time he would lose the referendum when he invited Likud party members to cast their ballots for and against disengagement in May 2004. But I would also have assured him he'd lose this week. So it's probably just as well he'd never dream of asking.
To avoid the risk of subsequent humiliation, then, but in a Rosh Hashana spirit of looking ahead, here are some thoughts, rather than specific predictions, for the year to come for better and worse.
Don't bet on Syrian President Bashar Assad. His own father's second-choice president, the man who lost Lebanon, is now gradually being reeled in by the UN investigation of the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri. That the US would be delighted to see the back of the lion-cub of Damascus is not the issue here. The findings of a UN-appointed German prosecutor tracing responsibility for the murder of a Sunni leader next door high into Assad's minority Alawite regime could spark genuine unrest, and worse, for Assad among Syria's Sunni majority.
Expect a widening of what is already the world's fastest growing divergence, right here in Israel, between the top and bottom economic deciles fueled in sorry part by the stop-at-nothing methods by which wealth is sometimes achieved and the apparent inability of law enforcement to deal with abuses.
Sharon is eternally adamant that he has faced no heavy American diplomatic pressure not as a central imperative behind his unexpected disengagement initiative over the past two years and not as an impediment to settlement expansion in the West Bank now. Perhaps it is a matter of semantics: The critics scream pressure, the prime minister hears harmony, and the Americans prefer to speak of seeking to amiably persuade Israel as to where its best interests lie.
In that spirit, in the coming months, don't be surprised to sense that Washington does not share Sharon's unhurried approach to the issue of dismantling West Bank outposts deemed illegal by his government. And that Washington differs with his current assessment that Israel's interests are best served by attempting to thwart Hamas's participation in elections for the Palestinian Legislative Council. Indeed, expect "amiable" American "persuasion" to the effect that it might ultimately be helpful to Israel not to impede Hamas's absorption into the Palestinian body politic, even if it proves reluctant to disarm.
The son of a visiting rabbinical trainee from the Jewish community of Uganda joined one of my kid's classes at school this year. I know that we might all have been living in Uganda had some of Herzl's early thinking held sway, but I had no idea there was a homegrown Jewish community there.
Meanwhile, conventional Jewish demographic opinion held that there were maybe five Jewish families in Pakistan; now that our two countries have started talking, however, e-mails have been zipping in from Karachi testifying to hidden synagogues and numerous Jewish families in a hitherto silent community.
We Jews plainly got and get everywhere. May next year bring more such discoveries.
Brace for the ongoing gradual transformation of Jerusalem into a city dominated by ultra-Orthodox Jews and Arabs, exacerbated by the self-fulfilling prophecy of other, departing population groups about their (lack of a) future here.
So long as he manages to evade further potential threats on his life, it is unlikely that Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf will be deterred by opposition voices at home from the incremental warming of Pakistan's now-open contacts with Israel.
Ties with some other Arab states could warm too; Sharon had been gearing up for an official visit to Tunisia before differences over security precautions specifically a Tunisian veto on the armed contingent of bodyguards without whom Sharon cannot travel scuppered the trip.
The argument over, and ultimate dilution of, the Dovrat proposals for education reform seem set to condemn our children to another year, and more, of overcrowded classrooms, their nimble minds entrusted to the care of too many underpaid, overstressed teachers working with an absence of conditions and standards that would draw in new and talented professionals and force the ouster of the ill-equipped. Doubtless this year, as every year, we will wail anew at international surveys highlighting the decline in our educational achievements. And do nothing substantive to reverse it.
Israel cannot be comfortable with a nuclear Iran. Neither can America. But the conditions that enabled Israel to launch a surprise air strike and abort Saddam Hussein's nuclear program by blowing up his Osirak reactor in 1981 plainly don't apply in Iran, which has dispersed and carefully protected its nuclear sites and has the necessary expertise and raw materials to rebuild if hit. And if getting the Security Council to so much as contemplate the looming nightmare is proving impossible, the likelihood of a US-led bid at regime change is truly remote.
Some experts consider that Teheran is still some years from nuclear capability. Many others believe that time has already almost run out. If there's a plan, now might be a good time...
And finally, is it too much to hope, at this time of year, for a little less of the wrong kind of tolerance in the months ahead? Tolerance for smoking in public places. Or filth on the sidewalks and at the beaches. Lunatic driving. Rudeness. Political corruption. And a little more of the right kind of tolerance for dissenting viewpoints, say, and differing approaches to God?
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A last few words of appreciation and apology.
My thanks to all of you, our readers, exactly a year since I took over as editor here at The Jerusalem Post, for accompanying us as we have sought to faithfully report the changing reality and to enable dialogue and understanding via our pages. Our circulation department tells me that our subscription numbers have been steadily rising in recent months a truly welcome demonstration of interest and commitment, the more remarkable in our electronic age.
Forgive the lapses and errors of judgment failures which, I might note, you tend not to be slow in bringing to my attention.
And enjoy a safe, healthy, peaceful New Year you and the whole House of Israel.
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