Party politics

Benyamin Netanyahu has come in for some shrill criticism from locals and outsiders. Their most recent brief is to reiterate doubt about his sincerity with respect to the peace process with the Palestinians, and his reluctance to cheer what they see as the democratic tide of protest against Hosni Mubarak. Today''s Ha''aretz reports a marked decline in his overseas trips, which it explains by the reluctance of world leaders to host him.
Bibi is slippery. A prominent line in Tzipi Livni''s election campaign was, "Bibi? I don’t believe him."
I found Livni''s campaign more attractive than Likud''s, but my subsequent view is that Netanyahu has done well in this term as prime minister. No one in this troubled and argumentative place has earned more than a B+ for service in a ranking position. I doubt that he is paying anything more than lip service to his frequent claims of sticking to the mission of reaching peace with the Palestinians. As you may have noticed, I pay the same lip service. I''m all for peace, even if it means that there will be an international border 50 meters from my balcony. However, I''m convinced that there is no future to the process as long as the Palestinians cannot accept Israel and Israelis pretty much where they are, and as long as Hamas and like-thinking Palestinians do not want Israelis anywhere.
On Mubarak, it would have been madness for an Israeli leader to support his ouster. He was president of the Arab country most important to us, and cooperated on important issues for 30 years. Netanyahu ordered his colleagues in the government not to express themselves during the period of mass protest, and he was measured in his statements about democracy and international comity. Insofar as the future of the Egyptian regime is still not clear, while continuity is so far in place, Netanyahu deserves at least a B+ for his actions during the period of greatest uncertainty.
With all the claims about the shakiness of his government, Bibi and his party colleagues could be dancing in the street. A prime minister who has heaped praise on himself for reforming the national economy when he held the position of finance minister will be claiming the credit for data showing Israel to be a world leader in the most recent period for its economic growth. Whenever he makes a claim about his economic genius I think of Livni''s campaign slogan. His sense of economic balance is an advantage for the country, but it is not a one-man show.
The even greater news for the immediate future of Netanyahu and Likud is the misfortune of the principal opposition party. Kadima''s chief administrator is currently in jail while being questioned for his part in a scandal centered on the income tax department. He and others are accused of selling favorable rulings to business executives.
The media are focusing not only on this story, but on the considerable list of Kadima personalities in prison, on trial, accused, or having been punished for one or another kind of corruption. The line-up features
  • Ehud Olmert, currently on trial for several kinds of corruption when he was Jerusalem mayor and head of one or another ministry in the national government;
  • Ariel Sharon and his two sons, either investigated, accused, or having been sentenced for influence peddling;
  • former minister and chair of a major Knesset committee Tsakhi Hanegbi, for favoritism in personnel appointments;
  • former minister Haim Ramon for impropriety with a female soldier (uninvited French kiss);
  • former Finance Minister Avraham Hirshson, serving time for pocketing public money.
Livni herself remains squeaky clean, and has suspended the party administrator accused of wrongdoing. But it would not be a good time for her to begin a campaign to unseat the government.
Traditionally, Israel''s major parties (Labor and Likud) have claimed to be motivated by principles. Their leading figures continue to talk about traditional themes, even while much of the air has gone out of Labor''s socialism and Likud''s nationalist claims about holding all the Land of Israel. Labor leaders are not prominent in the red flag parades on the first of May, and it is only a few Likudniks who occasionally sing the party song about both sides of the Jordan.
Kadima emerged from Likud members who rejected the hard lines of that party''s traditions. They stressed flexibility and pragmatism. Sharon withdrew settlements from Gaza and Olmert made offers to the Palestinians no less generous than Ehud Barack had offered eight years earlier.
Does a birth under the headings of flexibility and pragmatism rather than principle contribute to the linkage now being drawn between Kadima and personal corruption? There may be something to this, but I would not write a dissertation on the point. Most of the accusations of Kadima figures involve actions they took while still members of Likud. Bibi and Sara Netanyahu have had their own experience with police inquiries. There may be no Israeli party more associated with principles than the ultra-Orthodox SHAS, and it is no less prominent than Kadima in the records of the police, judiciary, and prison authorities. Avigdor Lieberman may be the most outspoken politician articulating principles, and the police have recently said that they are close to concluding the investigations of his financial dealings that have stretched over many years. The Labor Party is no more free of corruption. One can cite what may be the trivial matter of party leader Barak''s wife employing a illegal migrant as a house cleaner (before Barack left the Labor Party), or more weighty figures who have left their marks over the years in the records of the Prison Authority.
It is no easy task to judge the corruption of Israel against other countries, or to link improprieties to one party or another. Likud may be celebrating a fillip of advantage from the embarrassment of its most prominent opponent, but political advantages are short term and subject to chronic uncertainties. Israel''s region is more unsettled than usual. World leaders continue to say that they want more from the peace process. Religious and anti-religious Jews are seldom quiet.
An often quoted portion of Federalist #51 applies here as elsewhere:
"If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions."
One might fault Hamilton and Madison for genderism, but it was not an issue in 1788. And one of the key figures in the trial of Ehud Olmert is of the sex called fair, but not necessarily law-abiding.
Today''s advantage is to Likud. Tomorrow is another day.