Israel Could be Well Served by Olmert's Courage, Brains and Luck
Israel Could Be Well Served By Olmert’s Courage, Brains and Luck
DOV BURT LEVY
Jewish Journal North of Boston -- April 7, 2006
The delay between my writing and your reading this column would make my predictions about who will join the governing coalition in Israel an exercise in fortune-telling futility.
I think whoever comprises the government, the agenda is likely to be the same: improving military security and fixing economic insecurity. Just right, in my book.
How did economic insecurity get to top billing? Because Israel has become — only second or third to the United States — the country with the widest gap between rich and poor. Emulating the U.S. is great in some matters, like Israel’s large computer-driven technology industry, but terrible for a country whose claim to people’s hearts was its social programs and eschewing of conspicuous consumption.
The voters gave thumbs up to the Kadimah, Pensioners, Shas and Labor parties. And thumbs down to Benjamin Netanyahu, architect of the new economic policies, and his Likud party that lost decisively.
Here comes Ehud Olmert, a smart, courageous and very lucky guy. His political career began as a university student, graduated to a Knesset seat, and was followed by a victory over an elderly Teddy Kollek who many thought would be mayor of Jerusalem for a hundred years. Then Olmert gave up the mayor’s job to sit by Ariel Sharon’s side in the morphing from Likud to Kadima. Finally, with Sharon’s stroke, the story of Ehud Olmert, prime minister, begins.
Sure, capturing only 29 seats compared with the pre-Sharon stroke prediction of forty probably chastened Olmert. But Olmert knows that mandates and the power they bring are elusive, changing quickly and often.
No surprise, then, that he made front-page news the day after the election by calling upon the Palestinians to restart peace negotiations — even with Hamas in power — or face unilateral border decisions by an Israeli government determined to maintain and improve its security.
Reaching out to the Palestinians was courageous because Olmert knows that lots of Israelis consider talking to Hamas akin to negotiating with the Nazis. But smart because he knows for sure that if he doesn’t talk to those who have the mandate on the other side, he might as well talk to himself. Moreover, Olmert also knows that, regardless of his electoral victory, the power to exercise leadership can vanish in moments.
Example: Remember the 2004 presidential electoral victory of George W. Bush and his famous boast about how much political capital the election had brought him? Bush intended to spend it, and spend it well.
Fast forward: In these past two years Bush’s popular support has dwindled sharply, to less than 30 percent job approval. His political capital has been depleted. He failed in some big ways: getting staff member Harriet Myers onto the Supreme Court, having the United Arab Emirates take over the operation of six major American ports.
I think — and hope — that Olmert’s first hundred days in office will provide lots of relief for the underpaid, the poor, the ill and for those striving to achieve their educational and occupational potential.
If he spends his post-election capital quickly and wisely — and with continued Olmert luck — the nation will be well served.
Now that the election is over, with the Israeli territorial hawks faring so poorly and the Palestinian government seemingly in place, who knows, perhaps major gains can also be made in security, both short- and long-term.
One interesting factor in this election was that the mock polls conducted in the United States among American Jews gave Netanyahu and Likud a winning vote, over 40 seats, compared with the 12 seats they actually got in Israel. Can it be that American Jews are turning right while Israelis are moving ceenter and left? Or perhaps it was just the fervent few in America who voted?
Who said being Jewish was boring?