Ehud Olmert: Nothing has changed since last election

There is no other way to say this: Vote for the Blue and White bloc.

A voter in Jerusalem in the last Knesset election on April 9 (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
A voter in Jerusalem in the last Knesset election on April 9
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Israel’s political history shows that before almost every election, some people present the election as crucial for the future of the country. Since we are just days before Israel’s third election in less than a year, I believe it’s unnecessary to invoke rhetoric when we describe the upcoming election.
It seems that the Israeli public has already made the utmost of its rhetorical abilities to express its distaste for the political system’s conduct, and in particular: for the relentless, unbridled, brutal, separatist and combative actions carried out by interim Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. 
Nothing has changed in the months that have passed since September 17, the date of the last election. The parties, candidates, party lists and commentators have all repeated ad nauseam their slanderous commentary; have analyzed what has been portrayed as a stalemate between the blocs; have fussed over the Joint List, which has become the target of attacks by almost the entire political system; and in particular they’ve avoided addressing the fundamental issues that must be the basis for the plan of action of the next government that will be formed, I believe immediately following the election in early March.
The decision currently before us is primarily between two blocs: the Netanyahu bloc, composed of Likud, Yamina and the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) parties; and the Gantz bloc, composed of Blue and White, Labor and Gesher. The Arabs, at least for now, are on the margins of the main debate. None of the key players wants to be seen in their company.
Apparently, Blue and White, a party that is ostensibly tolerant and less aggressive – and which recognizes Arab citizens of Israel as legitimate members of the country – has repeatedly reiterated its commitment not to cooperate with the Joint List in its formation of a government.
Yisrael Beytenu exists in a world of its own. What exactly does Yvette Liberman mean? What tactics will he use the day after the election? He makes sure to keep this a secret, even though his heart is clear: Liberman is fed up with Netanyahu, and I believe – considering he is a credible man who adheres to his commitments – when the election results come in he will tip the scales, if he will have political power to do so, to benefit another candidate, any candidate, so long as it’s not Benjamin Netanyahu.
It’s impossible not to reach the conclusion that no issue except for Netanyahu’s survival has really been featured on the public agenda, and has not encouraged the public to be excited, curious, hopeful, fearful, disappointed and ready to protest.
For a moment, it seemed that Trump’s “Deal of the Century” festival would last a while in the public consciousness, but it quickly dissipated as if it had never happened, and will not be remembered in the resounding debate taking place on the streets, on TV channels, on radio stations, or in the daily news.
The heroic saving of Naama Issachar, which was very costly to the State of Israel, was worth a few direct news broadcasts, and expired almost as soon as the Boeing wide-body jet airliner the prime minister was flying on landed, together with the empress who directs him, at Ben-Gurion Airport.
HAVE FEARS of terrorist attacks, balloon bombs, kites loaded with incendiary devices, or heaven forbid, the landing of rockets on Israeli communities, succeeded for even a moment to restore an argument on the wisdom of Israel’s security and strategic policy regarding Gaza? Not really. The desperate attempts by temporary Minister of Defense Naftali Bennett to introduce a new worldview on security arrangements in southern Israel have not even received minimal media coverage. 
Of course, Bennett clearly knows that his plans are a collection of well-worn slogans that have no basis in informed, responsible policy by which any government in Israel should be run; even a government that Bennett would be a member of, and I hope this doesn’t happen.
For one short, presumptuous and discourteous moment, I thought that I was going to be a topic in the election. After all, the prime minister declared that in the past I agreed to give the Western Wall to the Palestinians. And who knows what awful things I might be part of if, heaven forbid, I met with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas?
The aroma of Arafat’s hand as he shakes Netanyahu’s hand has not yet dissipated. The Palestinian people will forever be grateful to Netanyahu for the generous contribution he gave them: Hebron, the historical city that is part of the most sacred land, in truth, in the collective memory of the Jewish people. Netanyahu gave it up and gave it to Arafat.
It’s no wonder that the two of them spoke to each other lovingly, and Netanyahu said about Arafat, as he shook his hand enthusiastically, that he had finally found a friend. I have known Netanyahu in varying degrees of closeness, though not too close, for decades, and I’ve never heard him talk about anyone with whom he is a friend with such spirit and affection. Arafat was like this.
Therefore, I was curious to see what will rain down on me from the arrogant arsenal of his mouth in light of my meeting with Abu Mazen. Traitor? Today, Netanyahu’s list of traitors includes quite an impressive roster of people. It’s almost an insult not to be included on that list.
The temporary prime minister acquitted me with a few insults, but this matter has also dissipated, and it’s not at all clear whether it has succeeded in permeating in the first place. If so, does the general public really believe that the meeting with Abu Mazen was a historic low? Perhaps it was an act of political intelligence and civic responsibility with which Netanyahu and his friends are no longer familiar.
Even the coronavirus is starting to bore us. Of course, everyone hopes those infected will recover, the quarantined will return to society, and that the quarantined passengers on the cruise ships will be rescued and returned to their homes. However, it seems to me that this matter, like all the others, is not holding up in the media turmoil.
Nevertheless, in the end, we need to answer how responsible people should act in less than two weeks and for whom they should vote. I hope that no one in Israel evades the need to make a decision, and that every eligible voter goes to his or her polling station and places their envelope among the thousands of other envelopes.
Everyone must participate in this election. No one should fail to do so. No excuse is good enough. Not 60% and not 70%, but more than 90% of Israeli citizens must go and cast their votes.
WHAT WILL the results be? I am very concerned that the upcoming election will not bring about a clear decision on Israeli policy on any of the really important issues that require us to take clear and sharp positions. I emphasized earlier that none of these issues – the security situation, the political moves, education policy, health reform, the allocation of resources needed to deal with traffic problems – have been raised in public discourse in a clear or resolute way by candidates and parties, and there’s no reason to assume this will happen after the election.
There is only one thing that will be the deciding factor on March 2. Will we return to be a normal country that achieves goals and makes mistakes, has successes and failures, fears that are sometimes justified and other times excessive? Or will we continue with the insane campaign, the incivility, incitement, sectarianism, verbal violence, sickening idolatrous journey, demonstration of loyalty toward the exalted prime minister and his strange wife and their crazed son.
On March 2, we will need to decide if we are ready to continue to undermine the very basic foundations of human decency, tolerance, restraint, mutual respect for others, accepting people who are different – or whether we have reached the point where we say enough is enough. 
There is no other way to say this: Vote for the Blue and White bloc. I will say once again that not only am I not a member of any of these parties, but some of their leaders and members are exactly the kind of people I don’t want to see on the front of our national stage. Certainly, the is the same as many of them think of me, and thought of me at other times, and this is certainly legitimate and plausible.
The declarations and announcements made by representatives of the Blue and White bloc parties are not always pleasing to my ears. Also, their views on some of the issues that I mentioned earlier, which to me seem extremely important and decisive for the future of the country, are not always clear to me. The Blue and White bloc is not the epitome of reason, experience, ability and talent.
But this is normal. I know most of its leaders and members. Some of them I like very much, while I have my reservations regarding others. In my opinion, all of them are decent and fit for office, and mostly normal and stable.
Faced with the madness of the other bloc – in light of what appears to be a clinical nervous breakdown of the interim prime minister and some of his family members – Benny Gantz, Bogie Ya’alon, Gabi Ashkenazi, Yair Lapid, Orna Barbivai, Miki Haimovich, Ofer Shelah, Rami Ben-Barak and many others are balanced, stable, normal and normative people.
Perhaps they won’t have the same inner strength and courage to make historical decisions that will change our reality and create new horizons of hope for Israeli citizens. We might need another ripening period until we reach that point. But if sanity, normalcy, restraint, tolerance and mutual respect will return to govern our country, the State of Israel will recover from the terrible virus that threatens its existence and origin; not the virus in China, but right here at home.
The author was the 12th prime minister of Israel.