The Arab League initiative offered a glimmer of hope to a severely tried and buffeted public.
By NAOMI CHAZAN
This year, total rest and relaxation during the last days of Pessah are particularly recommended. Beside the usual need to unwind and recuperate from the bevy of preparations and festivities, it is now possible to enjoy a rare respite from the gathering political winds that threaten to develop into a veritable hurricane. The foreknowledge of the difficult weeks to come may actually have a fortifying effect. If utilized properly, it may help to weather the oncoming storm. The chance to regroup and brace for the blustery times ahead is therefore precious.
The past year has been especially inclement for Israelis. Since the summer, the climate has become highly unpredictable. But the last few months have tested even the hardiest. The trauma of the Second Lebanon War has deepened as first the internal military inquiries, then the State Comptroller's Report on the preparedness of the home front, and most recently the partial and heavily edited publication of some of the testimony before the government's handpicked Winograd Committee indicate sweeping institutional malfunctioning.
The ongoing interrogation of the president on charges of sexual harassment and possible rape, coupled with the conviction (albeit without moral turpitude) of former justice minister Haim Ramon for indecent behavior, have sent additional shock waves throughout the system. And the numerous, relentless, cumulative revelations of corruption - released at a breathtaking pace - have supplied more omens of the brewing crisis of governance. Just before the holiday, all these portents began to come together, capped by the new scandal surrounding the minister of finance.
ON MARCH 28, the country tried hard to avoid noting that only one year has elapsed since the last elections. On that very same day, the reaffirmation of the Arab League initiative in Riyadh offered a glimmer of hope to a severely tried and constantly buffeted Israeli public.
The current collective vacation is therefore but a pause before the storm hits full force. The main elements of the forthcoming sequence are already known; other unanticipated ones will unfortunately be added. Avraham Hirchson will be compelled to suspend himself from the Finance Ministry soon after Pessah, if he does not do so in its waning days. On April 23, the country will observe an exceptionally charged Remembrance Day for the Fallen, followed by a less-than-joyous 59th birthday. The month will end with the release of the interim report of the Winograd Committee, which has promised to issue conclusions on the comportment of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Defense Minister Amir Peretz and the government in its entirety during the fateful early days of the war.
On May 2, while Israel's citizens will be absorbing and analyzing the committee's findings, Moshe Katsav will have his hearing before Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz. Soon afterward, a decision will be taken on whether to indict him for a series of serious sex-related felonies. It is safe to assume that by the middle of next month, the country will be rocked from all directions, especially if more charges are made in various corruption cases. The last known downpour will occur on May 28, when Labor Party members will select their next leader.
June 5 marks the 40th anniversary of the Six Day War and, with it, the conquest of the Palestinian territories and the Golan Heights. Israel will, in all probability, arrive at this historic benchmark in a different political situation than it finds itself today.
THERE ARE, at the moment, four conceivable directions of political change in the immediate future. The first, and least likely, is that Binyamin Netanyahu will garner the support of 61 Knesset members necessary to create an alternative government. The second, improbable but not impossible, is that the Knesset will be dissolved and new elections will be held during the summer. The third is that, somehow, a government reshuffle will take place, with Labor moving to the opposition and additional religious and right-wing parties joining the coalition in its stead.
The fourth option envisions that Kadima will continue to lead the government, but that either Shimon Peres or, far more likely, the popular Tzipi Livni, will take over the Prime Minister's Office.
In all of these scenarios, Olmert will not remain at the head of the government by the end of the summer.
Israel is, in many respects, embroiled in a truly tumultuous period of transition. So, too, is the region as a whole. The anticipation of the hard months ahead, during these final days of the long holiday, should not, however, be viewed solely through an ominous prism.
The country is in dire need of a thorough housecleaning which - unlike in the homes of its citizens - was not completed in time for the Seder. Once it undergoes this exceedingly painful process, it can find itself in a much better position to take advantage of the unusual opportunities afforded by the geo-strategic shifts in the region.
If it handles the upcoming changes prudently and judiciously, avoiding a repetition of past mistakes, it may yet be able to move ahead to a calmer, balmier future.
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