The global economic crisis will demand a broad coalition that'll be able to ignore minor pressures.
By AMOTZ ASA-EL
They did a mobster in the middle of Tel Aviv the other day; finished him off, wounded two passersby and shattered windows near the corner of Namir Blvd. and - of all names - Judah the Maccabee Street.
Ya'acov Alperon, in his life a caricature of Tony Soprano, died as a poor-man's version of Carmine "Cigar" Galante, the "boss-of-all-bosses" who was whacked in a Brooklyn restaurant back in '79.
Ubiquitous, accessible, outspoken, and quick to draw a knife and join a brawl, Alperon lacked the real Mafia's mystique, but he beat them in one field: politics. This man actually joined a political party, along with other shady characters, and began elbowing his way into its meandering corridors. The party was the Likud and the damage he inflicted on it was immeasurable.
Fortunately, Alperon et al. were vomited out. By sheer coincidence, the day before his ascension to heaven, Likud's party leaders met back on earth, and the underworld was nowhere to be seen, having been successfully uprooted by a new management whose hallmark is Bennie Begin.
In fact, as the Sharon-Olmert era draws to a close, several rays of light are emerging, after all.
FIRST, all major players behind this period's worst of several traumas, the Second Lebanon War, have been made to personally pay for it, from the prime minister, the defense minister and the chief of general staff to his deputy and the commanders of the northern border and the Lebanese front.
Second, the weeds that have sprouted alongside Israel's withering 0political garden, from the surreal Pensioners' Party to Arkadi Gaydamak's shadowy enterprises - are being weeded out.
And last, all key stars in this term's countless corruption scandals are at various stages of being vomited out of the system as well.
Adding all this up, one has to admit this means there is something about our system that is healthier than its many detractors are prepared to concede. Yes, you can steal, embezzle and maybe even rape while abusing your office in Israel, but the system is sufficiently immune to expose, depose and also altogether dispose of you.
This is not a banana republic, after all. It's not true that anything goes here. Eventually, the media, the legal system and even one's own political colleagues respond and act.
Heck, it was but three years ago that everyone derided the Likud's central leadership, which indeed had become a celebration of cynicism, theft and abuse of power. Now, with circus-master Omri Sharon long gone and well after a jail term, the same forum appears so reconstructed that few could recognize it in its meeting this week, the first after three years.
For one thing, it gathered in Sderot, as if finally reminded that politics is about serving the people and being with them, rather than abusing their tax returns and then abandoning them when they face an enemy's attack. Beyond that the forum appeared cleaner, dominated by the presence of the morally impeccable Bennie Begin and absent of the felons that only several years ago roamed about like earls in a royal wedding.
The same is true of Kadima.
Like her or not, Tzipi Livni is not in the business of embezzlement, kickbacks or patronage, and neither is her immediate circle. Kadima can therefore also claim with good reason, that yes, it had learned bad things about some of its leaders, but it knew to call them to task and whisk them away from its living room.
And even Labor, albeit more unwittingly, is providing a reminder of its own that our system still has within it some antidotes that our diagnosis had failed to detect. The fact that the polls indicate it is in for a beating over which even Amir Peretz and Shimon Peres never presided, means that the public has only that many idiots who are so blind as not to see that Ehud Barak stands for nothing and delivers even less.
And last week's municipal elections have altogether demonstrated that we are not quite as politically ill as we sometimes tend to think. True, the system had initially been ill enough to abandon Jerusalem to ultra-Orthodox devices, but now it has also proved sufficiently alert and life-thirsty enough to reclaim its own capital city.
And elsewhere in the country the people proved wise enough to effectively depoliticize local government, having effectively expropriated it from the traditional party system and handed it over to homegrown leaders.
And yet, none of this will make Binyamin Netanyahu's likely victory in February produce a workable coalition.
THERE WILL be three bottom lines after the votes are counted in February.
First, Likud's victory will be decisive. Second, it will be insufficient, as the new ruling party will command hardly a third of the new Knesset. And last, the three major mainstream parties - Likud, Kadima and Labor - will comprise roughly 60 percent of the Knesset.
Veteran Likud hacks, people like former and aspiring ministers Silvan Shalom and Limor Livnat, will prefer that Netanyahu assemble the Right, which as always will be lynch-pinned by Shas. This way, they will stand a better chance to get cabinet positions. Conversely, a coalition with Labor and Kadima will crowd the cabinet with all kinds of senior people who will overshadow them.
Well, with all due respect to the interests of such political crumb-gatherers, the national interest demands a Likud-Kadima-Labor government, and the reason is very prosaic: Nothing will matter the morning after Netanyahu's election besides the economy. All the rest will pale by comparison.
Yet a narrow government's junior partners will demand increased spending for their sectarian causes, besides of course multiplying social spending, the way they tried to impose it on Tzipi Livni. It's a non-starter any day, certainly according to Netanyahu, but even more so at a time when Citigroup announces plans to lay off 50,000 of its 300,000 employees and General Motors teeters on the brink of collapse.
Much as our economy has so far weathered the global storm remarkably, at the end of the day it depends on exports, and those in turn depend on demand overseas. It follows that we will need within the government expertise, harmony and frugality, and we will not need the small parties' spendthrift economics. What we will need is a Likud-Kadima-Labor coalition, where agreement will require debate, but the debate will at least be relatively professional and business-minded.
In fact, that is apparently how Netanyahu himself sees it, considering his statement this week, that he will favor a "unity government." Evidently, Netanyahu realizes that for the public, in times like these, the large party squabbles are indecipherable, costly and futile - much like the underworld's gang wars.
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