Photo: Tzafrir Abayov
Labor party headquarters
Photo: Tzafrir Abayov

Welcome to the circus

Olmert's mistake, Peretz's achievement, and Bibi's collapse

Amazing, no question about it.


Despite the gaps between the polls and reality, Election 2006 will go down in history as Israel's first post-modern election campaign.


From the low voter turnout, which points to unmistakable apathy (and would have been lower still were it not for the fact that a large percentage of the public feels duty-bound to vote, like it or not), to the results themselves, the old values and institutions have collapsed. We have before us a circus of images, in which politics is a type of degenerate game, and the self-convergence plan of the voters, for whom nothing really matters. Everything's a parody.


Think about it: The largest party won thanks to a man who lies unconscious in a Jerusalem hospital, and the biggest hit of these elections, a party that won massive support from areas such as Tel Aviv's trendy Shenkin Street, is an old-people's party where no one knows who the members are.


Many people who voted for the oldies had no idea who the party's chairman is, and apart from a good name and a few great television ads, there is no substance there.


Anything I could possibly write about the party would be superfluous, except for this: If you know the party's number two candidate, you have got too much time on your hands.


The party that has ruled for much of the last three decades, Likud, has been wiped off the political map. Tomorrow everything starts anew. As the process ends it could well be that some parties will break apart and join together. That's the way it is in the circus.


At the same time, it we can also verify some things we've known all along. For example: Ehud Olmert will be the next prime minister. But 30-32 seats for Kadima is a failure, stemming from the fact that Olmert listened to his advisors and tried to pull Arik Sharon's old trick: Anesthetize the election campaign and hope that time will pass quickly.


Olmert's mistake


Olmert should have campaigned, rather than trying to deaden the campaign and making due with anti-Hamas slogans and feeble promises of a unilateral withdrawal. He needed to market himself as a civilian candidate, with a clear, efficient administrative program for Israel, one that would serve ordinary citizens and deal with the issues they are most concerned about.


After Sharon won the 2003 elections but six months later did a dramatic about-face, the public was convinced that the question of borders and diplomatic process would be decided almost out of historic necessity.


People believed not only that Sharon would do the right thing, but also that he could pull it off, and they were willing to go along with his slack administration of the country in the eyes of others. Olmert needed to present a clear plan and prove his ability to see it through, but he failed to do so.


As a result, he will be prime minister but his coalition bargaining position has been weakened. True, in the coming days he will undertake a process to try and persuade the retirees to join Kadima, and he may even reach out to survivors of the Likud, if Benjamin Netanyahu resigns as party chairman or the party simply disbands.


But Olmert will pay a price for all this, a price he would not have had to pay had he run a reasonable campaign.


Peretz's victory


It would be hard to overstate Amir Peretz's achievements, in the face of many odds. Apart from Shimon Peres' ugly defection to Kadima – one minute he was fighting Kadima tooth-and-nails, but as soon as he lost to Peretz he suddenly saw the light and ran to Sharon – there was the barely-hidden racism of traditional Labor supporters who couldn't bring themselves to accept a Moroccan at the head of the party, and the subversive actions of the remnants of Ehud Barak's supporters and Barak himself, who called on party activists to vote for the party but attacked Peretz personally.


In light of all this Peretz retained power in the Labor Party, and may have even expanded his power – during an election campaign in which many large blocks took serious hits.


At the end of the day, Labor didn't even lose one seat to Kadima, and the left-wing bloc (Labor – Meretz – Arab parties) retained its strength. This is an historic achievement, the meaning of which could become more significant if Labor really does become a senior partner in the next government.


And here's a bet for the future: Labor will get the defense and education portfolios, but Peretz will drop his demand for the finance ministry (if he knows what's good for him).


Netanyahu's crash


Everything possible has already been written about Benjamin Netanyahu's personal abilities, and about the public's total lack of faith in his ability to serve as prime minister. In practice, Netanyahu led the Likud to the worst humiliations in the party's history, in 1999 and 2006.


His dream of returning to the prime minister's chair has vanished, and it would appear either that his days as leader of the Likud are numbered, or the party will move to rejoin Kadima.


Meanwhile, Israel Our Home did not limit its campaign to the Russian vote alone. Avigdor Lieberman touched on the Israeli dream of having an Arab-free country (as much as possible, that is. It wouldn’t be totally possible). He correctly discerned the country's desire for leader that could instill order, and placed himself at the crossroads of two options: The leader of the new right-wing, or – more likely – as a minister in the next government.


And finally, Shimon Peres. The man who doesn’t know how to win will apparently be named minister for regional development or something like that. Once again, he could have been prime minister, and if he had stuck with Peretz after losing the Labor Party chairmanship, he would have done pretty well for himself.


But for Peres, you known, it's never personal.


פרסום ראשון: 03.29.06, 00:35
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