Rattling the Cage: The three Bibis

Ehud Olmert's not a bad prime minister, he's no worse than anyone else.

larry derfner 88 (photo credit: )
larry derfner 88
(photo credit: )
Now that the government might fall and new elections might be called, every Israeli voter has to decide who he wants for prime minister. The choice comes down to this: Bibi Netanyahu, Bibi Barak or Bibi Olmert. You get my point: There's no controversy anymore. Between the dual effect of Palestinian terror and Israeli prosperity, Netanyahu's worldview has taken over politics in this country during the two years since the last election. In February 2006, remember, Olmert and Kadima ran on the "convergence" plan to uproot tens of thousands of West Bank settlers, Netanyahu and Likud wanted to "let the IDF win," while Amir Peretz and Labor campaigned for peace negotiations along with a more egalitarian economic policy. Since then, Olmert has dropped the convergence plan, while Labor, under Barak's authoritarian leadership, has forgotten about peace negotiations and egalitarianism. Only Netanyahu's policy of military force and frugal, capital-oriented economics remains. What used to be the Israeli Right is the new Israeli Center, and it is unprecedentedly huge, encompassing all three major parties. This is the colossal boulder sitting in the middle of the Israeli political map, the unshakable consensus, the immovable status quo. So – who do you want for prime minister? When it comes to the Bibi-ization of Israeli policy toward Gaza and the West Bank, I blame the Palestinians. They didn't have to keep firing Kassams after we got out of Gaza, but they did, and now even an old leftist like me is unwilling to get the IDF out of the West Bank for fear that the Palestinians will rocket Ben-Gurion Airport like they're rocketing Sderot. What I once thought of as right-wing demagoguery has become, in the present conditions, common sense. As for peace negotiations, they can't go anywhere as long as the Palestinian Authority can't or won't control terror, and the PA can't or won't. On security, then, the debate in Israel is no longer between hawks and doves, but between hawks and super-hawks. I BLAME Israelis, however, for the Bibi-ization, or Americanization, of this country's economic policy, which grows out of Israel's attempt to become a caricature of America. People in this country watch as the rich become ridiculously rich while the poor remain as poor as ever, the public education system collapses and the public health care system deteriorates – and they don't make a peep. Trickle down economics – that's the American way and that's the Israeli way, the new popular consensus, and it's reflected faithfully by Olmert and Barak as well as by Netanyahu. So who do you want for prime minister? I prefer Olmert to the other two, mainly because he seems to understand best that the conflict with the Palestinians, for the time being at least, has to be managed; it can't be settled by unilateral withdrawal or negotiations, and it can't be won by military power. Barak and Netanyahu, seeping with ambition as they are, would be more tempted to try to end the conflict – not by unilateral withdrawals or negotiations, but by force. More than Olmert, they would be tempted to reoccupy Gaza, which would only bring a great deal more death and destruction, indefinitely, to Palestinians and Israelis both. But the sad fact is that the escalation of the fighting might lead Olmert to reoccupy Gaza anyway, even though he says he won't. I don't see much difference between the three Bibis on this one. Nor do I see much difference on the question of building settlements; none of the three is going to stop it, nor is any of them likely to make it their pet cause like Begin, Shamir and the "old" Sharon did. As for Iran's nuclear facilities, I'd say Netanyahu is probably a little more eager than Barak or Olmert to bomb them, but at any rate, that decision will not be in the hands of the Israeli prime minister, it will be strictly and solely in the hands of the president of the United States: George W. Bush and whoever succeeds him in another year. So on the issue of Iran in the Israeli leadership rivalry, once again we have a three-way tie. AFTER A new US president gets elected, especially if it's a Democrat, there may be a chance for peace negotiations with Syria, which would be a good thing. I know Olmert and Barak are amenable, and while Netanyahu plays the hawk, the fact is that as prime minister he sent Ronald Lauder to Damascus to offer Hafez Assad the Golan Heights in return for peace. So on Syria, too, it's a wash. And about all this Annapolis small talk, Jerusalem and the "core issues" – everybody knows it's just wind, it isn't going anywhere, it's just to keep Bush and Condoleezza Rice happy. If the government falls, Annapolis won't be the reason. And neither, of course, will it be the Winograd Report. The Second Lebanon War happened a year-and-a-half ago, Olmert had wall-to-wall support for it, and ever since it ended the northern border has been quiet – no Knesset member is going to vote no-confidence in Olmert because of Winograd, either. But Olmert, for a variety of reasons, isn't popular, so he may get thrown out, which, as far as I'm concerned, would be vaguely regrettable. He's not a bad prime minister, he's no worse than anyone else, I doubt he's more corrupt than Barak or Netanyahu, he's only doing what the public wants him to do, and nobody else will do anything much different. I'd be a tiny bit sad to see him go, though, because he has a personality that I find I can tolerate, which isn't the case with Netanyahu or Barak. So that's who I want for prime minister: Bibi Olmert. Who said politics isn't exciting?