Skewed priorities

If Kadima's voters don't choose a new leadership they will be doing their country an immense disservice.

kadima logo 88 (photo credit:)
kadima logo 88
(photo credit: )
One might be forgiven for thinking that a government that felt it could afford to devote hour after hour of its once-a-week cabinet session to the feverish debate of a marginal issue would do so only because all other, more important matters of state were already being competently managed. Would that it were so. Our ever-expanding team of ministers spent much of last Sunday's meeting - its agenda set by the cabinet secretary, under the ultimate authority of the prime minister - deciding which framework would be most appropriate for examining police wiretap procedures as highlighted in the case of Vice Prime Minister Haim Ramon's sexual assault conviction. Beyond that, the focus was on falling immigration from the former Soviet Union. What the cabinet didn't spend most of Sunday's session discussing, therefore, for instance, was the unconscionable failure to significantly advance construction of the West Bank security barrier in its Jerusalem and southern sections for the past year. The barrier has remade our day-to-day reality, playing a central role in the drastic fall-off in suicide bombings. Yet some 300 kilometers remain unbuilt, bogged down in legal and budgetary disputes, with no concerted ministerial drive to ensure its speedy completion. Neither did ministers focus on the growing concern posed by the threat from "within" - Israel's vulnerability, as murderously illustrated first by the Mercaz Harav Yeshiva killings and, last week, by the Jaffa Road bulldozer rampage, to attack by terrorists living on the "safe" side of the barrier. Needless to say, similarly failing to dominate the ministerial agenda were such perennially unresolved issues as the water crisis or a coherent blueprint for settlement policy. Nor could time be found to finalize the appointment of a permanent director for the National Security Council, the body designated by the Winograd Committee as central to strategic decision-making in light of the Second Lebanon War failures two years ago. And, of course, the root cause of so much of our government's inability to actually get anything done - our blighted electoral system, which promotes a disconnect between the leadership and the public, and ensures multi-party coalitions dominated by narrow rivalries rather than concerted teamwork - was also deemed surplus to ministerial debate. On Wednesday, the smaller "security cabinet" met to discuss the looming crisis with Lebanon, amid Hizbullah's relentless rearming. The session had to be suspended; the participants - including some of the same ministers who had frittered away four hours on the Ramon wiretap matter three days earlier - ran out of time. IF ALL goes according to plan, Ehud Olmert's Kadima - the fresh grouping, remember, that was going to sweep aside the atrophied political establishment with a new broom of clean governance - will hold elections for a new leader two months from now. This election could mark the end of Olmert's prime ministership. It might not, however. For a start, the identities of the Kadima voters are entirely unclear; a nationwide membership drive is still in full and controversial swing. It is not inconceivable that, should he decide to run, Olmert - perhaps asserting vindication in the wake of next week's cross-examination of his corruption bete noire Morris Talansky; perhaps with a prisoner exchange to his "credit," or an ostensible diplomatic achievement - will be chosen ahead of rivals such as Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni. In any case, Olmert could stay on as caretaker prime minister until elections next spring if a successor proved unwilling or unable to forge a new coalition. Were Olmert to make it through to, say, next March, he would be able to claim that he had hung on as long as many other predecessors - about as long as Binyamin Netanyahu (between 1996 and 1999), for example, and longer than Ehud Barak (between 1999 and 2001), and shouldn't, therefore, be perceived as a failure. The inability to decisively prevail against Hizbullah two years ago, however, has been compounded by the distractions of his legal battles, and Olmert now presides over a government characterized by skewed priorities and drift. Vital matters, by no means limited to those cited above, are ignored or marginalized, and secondary concerns are elevated, to Israel's profound detriment. If Kadima's voters don't recognize this and choose a new leadership come September, they will likely be dealing their party a fatal blow. They will certainly be doing their country an immense disservice.