It’s unprecedented during wartime to undermine your nation’s unity. Nevertheless, that’s exactly what Israeli PM Ehud Olmert did when he declared that the war would create “new momentum” for his divisive Realignment Plan. Now even that presumptive fantasy has fallen by the wayside as his attention turns to the most important task for an allegedly corrupt career politician – saving his job.
It seems that Olmert, in a desperate attempt to stave off the mounting calls for his resignation and forthcoming investigations into his conduct of the war and personal financial dealings, is trying to cut a deal with the Opposition. In return for “postponing” Realignment and changing the government’s composition, such as removing the Labor party (perhaps with inexperienced Defense Minister Amir Peretz serving as the fall guy for the entire war), maybe, just maybe this ‘dead man-walking’ can survive.
Of course, this is all dependent upon the Opposition who, lead by former PM Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu, probably won’t take the bait. Figuring that, “we’re tired” Olmert and “let’s negotiate” Peretz would do a fine job of hanging themselves, the Opposition has been largely quiet. Sure, there have been some soft jabs at “government mistakes” but Netanyahu and most Opposition Knesset members have refrained from unloading their full criticism, content to merely watch as those nooses tighten. According to a new poll published on August 16 in the Ma’ariv newspaper, they probably won’t be waiting much longer with “support for the prime minister, who may face a formal inquiry into a real estate deal he made in 2004, dropp[ing]from 78% on July 19 to a new low of 40%.”
Whether by choice, trial or election, Olmert’s days are numbered along with what he represents, a mentality Bradley Burston described in Haaretz as “Yuppiestan.” Israeli’s, he wrote, have “…tolerated corruption for too long. For too long, we’ve allowed incompetence to go unaddressed, even rewarded. We’ve learned to countenance mediocrity, to let failure ride.”
Failure in war of course, is another matter, for a country where victory is synonymous with survival. Even with the calls for accountability from Left to Right, however, Olmert isn’t one to give-up easily (except against Hezbollah). According to Sara Honig (Jerusalem Post) this should be a given for someone of Olmert’s abilities. Olmert, she wrote, “may be grossly inept in running the affairs of state, but he’s second to none in churning out a heavily biased portrayal of reality (in his own favor obviously), or advantageously manipulating our perception, prettying-up and covering-up. The day of the spin doctor is upon us.”
But can spin really work this time? Can the Israel public be made to believe that they won rather than lost the war, even as Olmert calls for “prepare[ation] for what’s to come” i.e. the coming wars? That Northern Israel was protected rather than neglected, when approximately 4,000 rockets fell there? That the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) were well prepared instead of ill-equipped and supplied, when many reservists have complained about the lack of food, water and tellingly, orders? It doesn’t seem likely, prompting Opposition MK Prof. Dr. Aryeh Eldad to recently comment: “a thousand public relations experts cannot turn failure into victory.” In other words, Humpty Dumpty can’t be put back together again – he’s already in the frying pan.
On a side note, no one has questioned whether this war was a case of ‘wag the dog’ as some have speculated about Ariel Sharon’s intentions behind the Disengagement Plan. The fact that it was a war of choice rather than necessity leaves questions as to Olmert’s motivation. Why didn’t he maintain the status quo of hoping that Hezbollah wouldn’t launch a war on his watch – it worked for his two predecessors? Whatever his intention, greater attention is being focused on many facets of Olmert’s life from the contradictory – his children refused compulsory IDF service and two sons live abroad – to the possibly criminal and worst of all, his innate indecisiveness.
With the end of Olmert’s Premiership, possibly Yuppiestan and the Israeli media’s realization that greater vigilance is needed to prevent mediocrity from ever rising again, maybe the public can focus on the painful reality that peace is a long process. It is not something that can be unilaterally declared, secured behind ever higher walls or by misguided agreements paid for with the blood of “victims of peace.”
Which if any leader and party have the vision and determination to put forward a comprehensive new strategy and shift the failed paradigms? It’s unclear who will emerge when the dust settles but for right now it will suffice that Olmert and his government go.