What a dismal year

Our new government will not have the luxury of a 100-day grace period.

depressed 224.88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
depressed 224.88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The year 2008 is grinding down to its final, inglorious farewell. What a dismal year. We are witnessing an economic meltdown of historic proportions that has left no country untouched, and for which no one was prepared, from the president of the United States to the most humble of the world's citizens. People everywhere are still reeling from the enormity of the disaster, as their savings are depleted and their livelihoods endangered. By all accounts, 2009 promises to be not much better; it will probably be even worse. The economic hardship will continue, and, according to the mavens, the situation will only start to improve toward 2010. A good friend of mine made the following cynical observation: "Due to recent budget cuts and the cost of electricity, gas and oil, as well as the continued decline of the economy, the 'light at the end of the tunnel' has been turned off." Indeed, we are living in a state of limbo. Prominent businessman Yitzhak Tshuva has called it an "economic tsunami." To cap our pervasive feeling of unhappiness as we watch the mauling of our savings and the collapse of our pensions, we find ourselves with an impotent caretaker government. And we wait, in twilight, for a new dawn. Our new government will not have the luxury of a 100-day grace period. The problems we have to tackle cannot be put on hold indefinitely. The economy, the Iranian threat, the peace process, Gaza, Hamas, Hizbullah and the hoodlums of Hebron cannot be sidelined, as our politicians, fresh from their election victories, jockey for this or that position, as has been the rule in the past, not only in Israel. Previous prime ministers in Israel, as previous presidents in the United States, have allowed months to pass before putting their houses in order. The faltering economy will take pride of place both for premier-to-be Tzipi Livni or Binyamin Netanyahu. The other pressing problems, however, cannot be kept waiting while our next government addresses the economic crisis. Take the Iranian issue, for example. Like the proverbial sword of Damocles hanging over our head, the danger of a nuclear Iran is growing by the day. This is the most urgent challenge facing us - the one and only existential threat with which we have to contend. Whatever happens, our bottom line must be that we cannot accept a nuclear Iran. In contrast to President George W. Bush's policy vis a vis Iran, President-elect Barack Obama has already declared that he will immediately enter into negotiations to try to prevent Iranian entry into to the world's nuclear club. This may not be to the liking of some of our super-hawks, but Obama has already decided that his effort to counter the danger of a nuclear Iran will be through direct diplomacy, with a judicious combination of carrots and sticks. For its part, Israel will have to be involved from the start in American policy regarding Iran, and we will not be able to wait for our next prime minister to get his or her act together. The same applies to the issue of if and how to resume the peace process with the Palestinians and Syria. Netanyahu had intimated that, if elected, he would continue negotiations with both. But, with Moshe Feiglin's triumph in the Likud primaries - and with 19 Feiglin-endorsed candidates winning top slots - the writing on the wall spelling out the "crisis waiting to happen" between Netanyahu, supported by Dan Meridor, on the one hand, and Feiglin and his right-wing stalwarts on the other, is all too legible. With such a hard-line list behind him, there is no way Netanyahu can don the mantle of a moderate. Nor can Likud go back to the days when former prime minister Ariel Sharon spoke to his compatriots in the party about the impossibility of the occupation continuing indefinitely. Then there is the vexing problem of what our new government will do with our homegrown hoodlums in Hebron, Kiriyat Arba, Yitzhar and elsewhere in the territories. Writing in The Jerusalem Post a few days ago, my colleague Isi Leibler, himself a religious Jew and strong supporter of the settler movement, wrote of the "ugly saga of mob rule unfolding in Hebron," and of the "disgust, shame and rage" he felt when faced with it. Do Feiglin and his cohorts have similar feelings? "The laws of the land must be respected," Leibler writes. But the truth is that the laws of the land have never been fully respected in the territories. Will Netanyahu be able to restore law and order if he becomes prime minister, with Feiglin breathing down his neck? THE BATTLE for the soul of the Likud will not wait for the elections. Netanyahu is trying to project himself as a centrist, pragmatic politician who aims to continue negotiating with both the Palestinians and the Syrians - one who will want to cooperate closely with the new US president and with the European Union. He hastened to convene a meeting in Tel Aviv with the ambassadors of the EU on Thursday, in order to underline these intentions. Feiglin, on the other hand, has his own agenda, which would include taking Israel out of the UN, closing Israeli embassies in countries he considers to be anti-Semitic and using an iron fist against the Palestinians. There is no way that Feiglin and his supporters, who won so many of the first 30 slots in the Likud primary, will accept the conciliatory policies that Netanyahu has been promoting in his talks with Americans and Europeans. The Likud is heading for a showdown. For Netanyahu to win the general election, he must first oust Feiglin from the high position he now occupies on the Likud list. Despite the Likud's impressive lead in the polls, the debacle of the Likud primary results this week has provided Kadima with a real opportunity to make a comeback in the campaign. True to its tradition, the Israel Council on Foreign Relations decided this week to invite the leaders of Likud and Kadima to an Obama-McCain-style debate. It will be interesting to see whether either will refuse the offer. On the heels of 2009, with the approach of Election Day on February 10, we are waiting and hoping that perhaps the sun will shine upon us, and we will see the improvements for which we are all yearning.