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(photo credit: )
On March 29, Middle Israelis will wake up dizzy, nauseous and depressed.
With at least three midsized parties, each with its aspiring knight on a white horse, gone will be 2003's refreshing emergence, for the first time in 26 years, of decisive winners and humbled losers.
Rubbing our eyes above the sink, our ears will now be ringing with Amir Peretz's thunderous shouts - a la "I am Cassius Clay" - following Labor's expansion by several Knesset seats, which he will interpret about as victoriously as Egypt interprets the Yom Kippur War. Flushing the toilet we will nearly vomit, remembering his assertive demand to be finance minister, and his brazen promise to hike this, restore that and amend those - all of which will boil down to raising our taxes.
Burying our heads as deep as possible in the sink, we will recall Bibi Netanyahu's brave suggestion moments after the exit polls' release that the Likud's beating could have been worse but for Sharon's betrayal, and even the newly abandoned party's performance would have been better if not for Netanyahu's new archrival Shaul Mofaz's economic demagoguery that "should have landed him in Peretz's party." And recalling Ariel Sharon's midnight announcement that his first meetings this morning will be with Eli Yishai and Meir Porush, we will spit our toothpaste into the mirror.
Ambitious reforms like the ones introduced during the past two years in the financial, educational, municipal and religious spheres will be unthinkable, not to mention a contentious initiative like the disengagement plan. Instead, our political vitality will be Soviet, our parliamentary stability will be Italian and our governmental delivery will be Argentinean.
Shorn of a natural majority, the visibly sleepless prime minister-designate will spend days, nights and weeks piecing together a patchwork coalition with adversaries whose company he can hardly bear, whose appetites for political booty he cannot satisfy, and whose convictions he cannot reconcile.
Every morning the papers will scream another speculation: Yuli to education, promises to halve university tuition; Ezra threatens to quit if Itzik gets Internal Security; Pines: Yishai will restore the Interior Ministry's Middle Ages; Dichter doesn't want Sneh as deputy defense minister; Mofaz to abandon Bibi, get Transport; Sneh doesn't want health, prefers Washington embassy; Olmert to hand Treasury to Peretz only for Foreign; Peretz wants Peres for Foreign; Peres himself wants to be UN Secretary-General, and Kofi Annan to replace Amir Peretz.
When finally assembled, the cabinet will quickly prove paralyzed, economically by these, diplomatically by those, while the color returns to the cheeks of ultra-Orthodox politicians, who once again will obstruct all reform - of the political system, the economy, the schools, marriage laws, conversions, you name it.
While giving in to their demands, the prime minister will wink at colleagues and pundits; yes, he knows he is giving in to demands he considers preposterous, but come judgment day they will back him. Then, when judgment day arrives he will learn that yes, they were indeed with him, but that was only when it came to getting a slice of his pie; when it came to ceding land they were with Bibi, Effi and Yvette.
And yet, out of all this mayhem several good things will still emerge.
FIRST, next year's will be remembered as the first post-militarized election, both in terms of its issues and in terms of its candidates. With two out of its main three candidates lacking military careers, and the third's political career already spanning six more years than his illustrious military career, in this election we will finally be disabused of that uniquely Israeli phenomenon of generals barging into the political fray as if it were not a profession that, just like military jobs, demands skills, knowledge and experience that they so glaringly lack.
This election there will be no Ehud Barak, Amnon Lipkin, Itzik Mordechai or Amram Mitzna, and for that matter there will also be no Matan Vilna'i, whose jump to Peres's bandwagon a minute before it crashed should be recorded in the Guinness Book of Records as supreme political amateurism. Mofaz's decision to run for the Likud's leadership is likely to emerge as equally ill-conceived: splitting his days between apologizing for having executed the disengagement plan and provoking unarmed Bibi for his well-argued economics, he may be in for a beating that will do to his political career what the 2001 election did to Barak's.
Then come the prospects for ideological humility.
After the previous election humbled the land-for-peace fanatics in a way they will never forget, the next election may do the same to the Greater Israelites. Throughout the disengagement saga they insisted that the people were with them, and that the plan was being carried out in stark violation of the democratic process. Well, now is the time to prove this. If the parties that opposed disengagement fail to dominate this Knesset, then they will have to be resigned to the conclusion that theirs is a minority cause. Meanwhile, the territorial debate that dominated our national discourse and sapped our political energies for two generations will at last be declared dead.
Finally, the fragmented Knesset we are in for is likely to generate demand for political reform that will include some mixture of regional elections and enhanced executive clout. History has proven repeatedly that what Israelis ruin with their inability to plan they fix with their ability to improvise, provided that a crisis becomes truly unbearable. This is how we won following the '73 invasion, the '85 economic crisis, and the 2000 terror war.
Yes, it's very difficult to believe now that in a few years Israeli prime ministers will appoint all their ministers from outside the Knesset, thus ending the coalition regime, and that we will be voting for our local congressman, thus rendering obsolete that fountain of political corruption, the party center. But Middle Israelis must believe in this kind of future, or else come Wednesday morning March 29, they will never emerge from the bathroom.
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