An embarrassment of politicians

Time after time, Peretz declared insistently that he would not dream of forming a coalition with the reviled Likud.

smile peretz 298 88 aj (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
smile peretz 298 88 aj
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Time after time in the run-up to the elections, Labor leader Amir Peretz declared insistently that he would not dream of forming a coalition with the reviled Likud. The Likud's leader, after all, was none other than Binyamin Netanyahu, denigrator of the late Yitzhak Rabin and the finance minister responsible, in Peretz's world view, for a brutal economic assault on Israel's more disadvantaged citizens - an assault that Labor was pledged to reverse. No sooner were the results in, however, than there was the self-same Peretz, evidently forgetting himself amid the delight of having maintained Labor's numerical Knesset clout - or, more accurately, counting on a nationwide bout of memory loss - reveling in the notion of a Labor-led government with the Likud as an essential component. Netanyahu, it seemed, was not so repugnant a politician after all. The gaping rifts between Labor and the Likud - on the economy and the future of the West Bank - could be bridged or pushed to the margins. Anything and everything was worth sacrificing in the effort to suppress Kadima and for the ignoble cause of would-be prime minister Peretz. But Peretz, it should be stressed, is not the only national political figure to have temporarily lost his principles in these heady first days of coalition jockeying. What of the Likud, which reportedly initiated the improbable contacts with Labor? Is the prospect of sitting in opposition, and working democratically to thwart the policies of a Kadima-led government that would likely be hard-pressed to raise a majority on the key issue of West Bank withdrawal, so unthinkable? Did it seriously conceive that a Labor-Likud coalition of bitter rivals could possibly yield a modicum of the stable government that Israel craves and requires? And what, meanwhile, of Kadima? It seems guilty both of poor politics and sacrificed principles. It chose to curtail its coalition options, before a vote had been cast, by purporting to be bent on excluding any and all parties that would not sign up for its "convergence" plan for further West Bank withdrawal. Yet once it was clear that it had fared far worse than anticipated, Kadima's coalition-builders unhesitatingly turned to Shas, a party opposed to "convergence," and urged it be the first to join the government and so gain the best partnership deal. The appeal to Shas, of course, was in part an effort to demonstrate to Labor that Kadima is not short of options, and thus reduce Labor's bargaining power in an Ehud Olmert-led government - a case of political necessity trumping common sense and the public good. The embarrassing public and private inter-party contacts of the last few days, the apologists say, shouldn't be taken too seriously; it's the rough and tumble of politics, a necessary dance that, in the end, will amount to nothing anyway. Whatever coalition ultimately emerges, such thinking is misguided. The conduct of the newly elected politicians, and their apparent readiness to lightly abandon positions and partners and embrace new ones, can only further alienate an electorate that already demonstrated, via last Tuesday's low turnout, its growing disillusion with its leaders. Which brings us to the root of all this political evil - our lousy electoral system. It is a process that, again and again, produces a splintered parliament, unstable coalitions, a lack of accountability to the voters and, to coin a new collective noun, an embarrassment of politicians. At times like these first, frenetic post-election days and weeks, it makes fools of even would-be honorable legislators. At all times, it militates against stable government, undermining Israel's ability to sustain crucial policies and, therefore, quite simply, weakening us all. They won't, of course. But wouldn't it be admirable if, instead of constantly surprising us with the depths to which they are prepared to sink in order to grab a hold on power, the new crop of Knesset arrivals amazed us for the better? If, that is, they put the common interest above the narrow one, and made a concerted effort to reform a system that ill-serves us and, though they are evidently still too self-obsessed to internalize the fact, humiliates them.