Burning Issues 31: Winograd fallout

Question #31
What will the future political landscape look like in Israel in the aftermath of the Winograd report? Contributers: (read it all or click on name to read post; link to writer's most recent column follows entry)
  • Gerald Steinberg
  • Gershon Baskin
  • Isi Leibler
  • Calev Ben-David
  • Amotz Asa-El Gerald Steinberg: The leadership failures during the war with Hizbullah were bound to lead to the removal of the prime minister and defense minister, and the Winograd report marks another step towards this outcome. Israel's strategic environment, particularly given the threat from Iran and the need for quick and crucial decisions, does not allow for the luxury of inexperienced leaders and career politicians who have used public service mainly to enrich themselves. And while former generals do not always make good political leaders, Israel's "best and brightest" still come from the military and security sectors. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who is not tainted by corruption, and has restored some professionalism to Israeli diplomacy, also lacks the critical experience necessary for Israel's prime minister. As a result, the contest for leadership in the Kadima party, if it survives as a pragmatic centrist framework, it's likely to include former IDF Chief of Staff Shaul Mofaz and perhaps other ex-IDF officers. In the Labor Party, after the disastrous experiment with Amir Peretz, a populist labor leader, the contest for leadership is between former prime minister and IDF CoS Ehud Barak (whose first term as prime minister was also disastrous) and Ami Ayalon, another graduate of the IDF who also served as head of the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency). Moshe (Bogie) Ayalon, who was pushed out his position as IDF CoS for warning against disengagement, and turned out to be correct, and Uzi Dayan, are also potential candidates. But the main contender was and remains Binymanin Netanyahu. Like Barak, he is saddled with having had a bad first term as prime minister, and being voted out in response. However, most of Netanyahu's three years were marked by a major decrease in Palestinian terror, and a steady hand in dealing with other security threats. Public opinion polls give Netanyahu and Likud a commanding lead, and while polls can be very misleading, and Israeli politics can change direction quickly, the most likely outcome of elections necessary to provide a new mandate is a government led by Netanyahu, with one of the former generals as defense minister. Abusing the Holocaust Gershon Baskin: I don't know what the political landscape will look like other than saying it will be different from what it is today. I do know what it should look like: Prime Minister Olmert and Defense Minister Peretz must resign. If they don't resign the public should force them to resign. The public should not rest until Olmert and Peretz retire from Government. My choice for Prime Minister is Tzipi Livni. Livni, unfortunately was not strong enough in her inclination to oppose the war last summer, but at least she had the intelligence to ask the right questions like: what is our exit strategy? Do we have an exit strategy? It is Livni's time to stand up and be heard. There is no need to throw the country into a new election season. There are no great attractions in the window display of candidates hoping to get a place at the Cabinet table. The least attractive of all is Binyamin Netanyahu who for some strange reason is doing so well in the polls. Israelis have such short memories. We don't need spin doctors in government; we need people with integrity, vision, intelligence and experience. The Labor party will soon make its decision who should lead them in their upcoming primaries. Kadima has no real institutions to make decisions, but it seems to me that if Livni were to stand up and declare her intention to be prime minister, she would have a majority of support in the party, even from her colleagues in the Government. The most important thing is for Olmert and Peretz to go home. When will it all end? Isi Leibler: In September last year I wrote that "the leaders have lost the confidence of the nation and forfeited the moral right to remain in power". I quoted Ehud Olmert's announcement that "the responsibility for the results of the war is wholly mine" and stated that "if the principle of public accountability is to have any meaning in our political culture, the prime minister should behave like a statesman and accept the consequences. For the good of the nation and in order to forestall more painful and divisive public demonstrations he should bow to popular demand and call early elections". Olmert stubbornly refused to do so and even in the wake of the devastating Winograd report still insists that he will not resign. But the initial findings are sufficiently damning to have sealed his fate. If he fails to go willingly he will be removed. Today, more than ever, we desperately need leaders with sufficient backbone to lead and not be led. Only leaders elected by the people will have the mandate to bring about the necessary reforms to the IDF; to determine long-term policies based on strategic planning rather than zigzagging to please their constituents; to promote economic stability; to ensure that the drive against corruption continues unabated; and hopefully to even reform our appalling electoral system. The question is whether the long suffering people of Israel are now going to permit the failed Kadima and Knesset factions fearful of facing the verdict of the people, to avoid elections and indulge in musical chairs, inflicting upon us more incompetent leaders who lack our support. The people must mount a campaign to demand new elections as soon as possible in order to enable them to exercise their democratic right to appoint leaders of their choice. It's time to reform the Claims Conference Calev Ben-David: If the question is simply who will be sitting in the prime minister's chair come next autumn, the answer is either an Ehud Olmert barely clinging to power, Tzipi Livni as Kadima's replacement PM, or Binyamin Netanyahu in his second go-round as premier. The next defense minister for any of those three is likely to be Ami Ayalon or Ehud Barak. But the Winograd report raises more serious questions beyond the personalities involved in its condemnations. This commission commendably widened its scoop to criticize an entire culture of (poor) decision-making that has permeated the upper-echelons of the Israeli government and security establishment, all of which found unfortunate expression in the conduct of the Second Lebanon War. The failure to: properly prepare for all contingencies; to seek qualified, wide-ranging and divergent views before making crucial decisions; to be cautious in making public utterances, especially in the sphere of public diplomacy; to appoint only qualified personnel in sensitive positions; and to anticipate and be ready to accept the consequences of potentially risky undertakings - are not failings that suddenly appeared in Israeli decision-making circles at the highest levels, just last summer. These are endemic problems in Israeli society as a whole, especially in the governmental sphere. But at a time when Israel is facing unprecedented existential challenges by a surging Islamic extremism and a potentially nuclear-armed hostile Iranian regime, these shortcomings have become positively life-threatening for the Jewish State. The real changes in the political landscape spurred by the Winograd report should be: electoral reform that will make elected officials more directly accountable to voter; changes in governmental procedures so that cabinet posts are filled by qualified ministers; a revamped security establishment, including a National Security Council with genuine authority; and a recognition that the traditional Israeli attitude of "Yiheyah be'seder" (It'll be okay) is no longer an acceptable way to run a country - at least not this one. And if we don't see those Winograd-spurred reforms, then soon enough we'll found ourselves in the same scenario - the Third Lebanon War, or worse - with the only change being a different cast. Snap Judgment: Long may it wave Amotz Asa-El: Olmert's premiership cannot survive the blow it has just been handed. In several weeks his major coalition partner, Labor, will be compelled to abandon him, as the leading candidates in the election for its leadership have just closed the book on Olmert. Olmert's own party will also soon begin to spew out the lava Olmert has gathered inside it both before and after last summer's war. Technically, then, Olmert's departure will come either by his coalition's unraveling, or through a dismissal by his own party, unless he preempts these with a resignation. This is the only part of the future that for now is clear. What is not clear is whether the current mayhem, which is about merit, will be understood as part of a broader leadership crisis, which is about morality, highlighted by substandard, and possibly criminal, people arriving at the Presidency, Treasury, Income Tax Authority, Defense Ministry and Justice Ministry (before the current minister's arrival). Hopefully, Olmert's imminent removal will eventually herald an era of political reform on the scale of the economic reform Israel has undergone since the mid-1980s. For more on this, read the upcoming weekend's Middle Israel. Middle Israel: Does Jerusalem need a Calatrava bridge?