Abdication, again

Voters need to empower parties committed to changing the political system and making it more accountable.

cabinet 224 88 (photo credit: AP [file])
cabinet 224 88
(photo credit: AP [file])
If it is true, as the 17th-century French diplomat Joseph de Maistre argued, that "every country has the government it deserves," then Israelis can only blame themselves for allowing a dysfunctional cabinet and a discredited premier to rule them. Since the interim findings of the Winograd Committee were released in April 2007, this newspaper has consistently maintained that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's bungling of the Second Lebanon War demands his removal from office. After the committee cited him for "serious failure in exercising judgment, responsibility and prudence" and placed "primary responsibility" for the lack of success in the war on his shoulders, we called for his exit. Nothing that has happened since - his entanglement in yet another police investigation; his deep unpopularity; and, most notably, his continued inability to govern effectively - changes that assessment of Olmert's leadership. DESPITE EVIDENCE that the government cannot make tough decisions in an effective, efficient and timely manner, Israel's politics-as-usual system has now prolonged Olmert's stewardship and the country's political near-paralysis. On Wednesday, it looked as if the Knesset might finally vote to call for new elections and thus compel Olmert's departure. This followed on the heels of Defense Minister Ehud Barak's third warning that Kadima had better select a new leader with whom Labor could stay partnered - or else. Barak issued similar threats in May 2007 and February 2008. In response, Olmert set in slow motion a process by which Kadima would make plans to hold a leadership race. But the widely-held perception that the government was not properly functioning forced Barak this week to insist on a specific leadership selection date, or Labor would support a Likud motion to dissolve the Knesset. And so, in the early hours of Wednesday morning, Kadima ostensibly gave Labor what it wanted: a commitment to select a new party head by September 25. NOW THAT the dust has settled, we know this much: Ehud Olmert, political Houdini that he is, has bought himself more time. Even if Kadima selects a different party leader three months hence, it would not automatically preclude Olmert's retaining the premiership. Moreover, lawyers for the prime minister are scheduled to cross-examine Morris Talansky on July 17 about those cash-stuffed envelopes. Now a poll of Kadima Party members suggests that if Talansky's initial testimony is punctured, Olmert could defeat Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni in the party leadership race. Meanwhile, Olmert can be expected to accelerate diplomatic efforts in the hope that a breakthrough with the Palestinians or Syrians or Lebanese might salvage his career. All the while, the Shas Party will continue exploiting Kadima's and Labor's quest to keep the coalition alive by pressing its parochial demands for budget-busting child-support payments. THE LATEST turn of events further heightens Israelis' already damaging level of cynicism and alienation regarding our political system. The handling of the Lebanon war was bad enough; also the sluggish manner in which key players in the political and military echelon took responsibility for their deeds. But Olmert's Machiavellian ability to retain power in the face of so overwhelming a case for his departure is perhaps the most damaging of all. Foreign Minister Livni would like Israelis to know she appreciates how they feel. At a conference in Tel Aviv this week, she said: "There is no doubt that the public has lost its faith in politics. From here, the path to an unstable foundation of democracy and anarchy is very short… It is enough for one leg to be crooked in order to twist all of democracy." BUT TALK is cheap. At the end of the day, Livni and Barak, together with more than two dozen other cabinet ministers, could not - even one of them - bring themselves to resign from this government: not on principle, nor to hasten its demise, nor even for the sake of dissociating themselves from a prime minister already castigated by a committee he selected to investigate the war and since further compromised by the demands on his time involved in his legal battles. When the moment comes, at last, to elect a new Knesset, voters need to empower parties committed to changing the political system and making it more accountable - to give the resilient people of Israel the kind of government they deserve. The remarkable Zionist enterprise merits far better than the leadership we have today.