Ehud Olmert did the expected and resigned as Israeli prime minister yesterday. This makes him an interim prime minister until Tzipi Livni, the new head of the Kadima Party, can form a ruling coalition. So far so good. But this is where the strangeness begins.
Israeli politicians are not content merely to conduct some of the weirdest political horsetrading of any western democracy I know. Pols like Labor’s Ehud Barak really wants to get strange. He’s the junior coalition partner in the current government. He’s a thoroughly unpopular leader both in Israel at large and in Labor as well. Yet that doesn’t stop him from trying to work the angles:
Kadima has expected her to become prime minister by forming a new government from the existing components, the largest of which, after Kadima, is Labor. But Ehud Barak, the defense minister and head of Labor, has numerous reservations about the plan.
…Mr. Barak’s hesitation — made clear over the weekend when he declined an early meeting request from Ms. Livni and met first with the Likud leader, Benjamin Netanyahu — may be as much tactical as substantive. And while he did meet her on Sunday night, it may also be personal.
Mr. Barak, the most decorated soldier in Israel, is believed to chafe at taking orders from Ms. Livni, a lawyer who entered politics nine years ago with no national security experience other than the required military service and two years in a low-level Mossad espionage job in Paris.
Mr. Barak’s associates and key Labor Party activists say, however, that his concerns are as much about the future of the country and his party as about himself.
“This is not a game,” a close associate of his said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly. “We are at a point in Israel’s history where major decisions have to be made. Barak thinks Livni is not ripe. She could be a good foreign minister or justice minister, but to be prime minister takes more.”
Barak leads a thoroughly unpopular party (among numerous ones in the Knesset). Livni leads the largest party. Yet somehow Barak’s sense of entitlement tells him that he should decide whether or not Tzipi Livni deserves to be p.m. The sheer gall of it!
And what a chutzpan for his “close associate” to claim “it’s not a game.” It’s not a game to Barak because it’s all about him, his future, his standing, his ego. There is nothing about the country or its needs in his considerations. If anyone tells you different don’t believe a word of it.
And if you detected a strong odor of sexism in these comments, boy (no irony intended) you should. Imagine a guy who dressed as a woman to gun down an unarmed PLO leader doesn’t want to take orders from a woman. Too bad! I feel so bad for the guy.
The most shocking and twisted idea coming out of this article attributed to Barak is this:
But some officials say that Mr. Barak and Mr. Netanyahu met over the weekend to agree on an early date for elections.
Barak couldn’t get elected dog catcher. And he wants early elections?? Is the guy a total imbecile? The only other thing I can think of is that they’re hatching some sort of plan that would create a unity government of Likud and Labor with Netanyahu and Barak divvying up the spoils. A more cynical, disgusting thought about an Israeli politician hasn’t crossed my mind in some time.
The ONLY thing for Barak to do if he is sensible is to hitch his wagon to Livni and hope her government lasts as long as it can. There is no possible way Barak can win an election. Not now. Not ever. For him to think otherwise indicates he’s living in an alternate political universe.
The vote between Tzippi and Mofaz was essentially a tie with no small amount of ballot-box stuffing by both of them. She got around 16,000 votes, in a country of 6 million people. She has no mandate to take any kind of radical action, towards war or “peace”. That’s why I hope she will be able to form a gov’t….in this day and age, weak leaders are preferable because they do less damage than “strong leaders” like Sharon. A weak, discredited Leftist gov’t is the least bad choice for us “Right-wing religious, pro-Judea/Samaria settler-types”. She has very little real support among the population, something she would need if she wants to mobilize the security forces against the settlers in order to drag them out of their homes, bulldoze their communities and let raging Arab mobs burn down their synagogues, as Sharon let happen in Gush Katif.
Richard Silverstein says
1% is not “a tie.” It is a victory. Albeit not a convincing one & nowhere near what the polls predicted & she expected. But she is still the leader & still has a mandate no matter how much less of one it might be than she hoped.
One thing I always enjoy about yr comments is yr “ironic” (it must be ironic because otherwise people might think you were serious & an utter fool to boot) use of “leftist” to describe leaders like Olmert, Sharon & Livni. What would you call a Barak gov’t? Communist? Your hyperbole reflects poorly on yr credibility as a fair minded observer of Israeli politics.
Livni has the same mandate Sharon & Olmert has since she’s merely contuining the same basic policies they implemented. If the citizenry disagree they should organize mass rallies & force her to early elections. They won’t because I think most Israelis, except for you & yours, want her to succeed.
As opposed to the raging Jewish mobs who assaulted fellow Jewish police officers attempting to remove them.
You & yours claimed Sharon had no mandate to remove the Gaza settlers just as you now claim Livni has no mandate to do the same. Sharon managed to outmanuver them fairly easily I thought. Once he showed the way, I think Livni will not find it any harder to engineer the required settlement withdrawals that will have to come on the W. Bank.
William Burns says
As much as I loathe bar-kochba’s politics I agree with his basic analysis of the situation–Livni will be Olmert II–talk peace, build settlements.
If Livni is able to form a government she has a mandate to do whatever the government and knesset decide. That’s how parliaments work. There is a compelling moral (but not legal) argument for new elections since BOTH the major parties (Kadima and Labor) faced the voters with OTHER people leading their parties (Peretz and Olmert).
You seem to dislike Barak, but as opposed to what you wrote, Barak was elected to lead labor by a majority of labor members. If you’re relying on polls, then you haven’t learned anything yet about Israeli polls. Go back and read the post where bar kochba explained to you why Israeli polls are so unreliable (proven once again). And, I remind you, if it wasn’t for Barak, Olmert would still be PM. It wasn’t Livni that pressured Kadima into new primaries, it was Barak. Livni is the one which called on Olmert to resign and when he didn’t she stayed in his government.
Nevertheless, I wish Livni the best of luck, because her success is Israel’s success.
Michael Weis says
I moved to the US from Israel in 1999. I barely know anything about Livni except that she is centrist, what ever that means. Does anybody know how she stand on issues? Maybe Richard S. could make a short bio on Livni and how she stands on political issues.
Richard Silverstein says
@amir: Bar Kochba claims that Israeli polls are unreliable. That should be read: Israeli polls invariably produce results of which he disapproves, therefore they must be discredited. Bar Kochba is about as reliable an expert on Israeli polling techniques as I am on nuclear fusion.
I’ll let you give Barak credit even if it isn’t deserved. Livni called for Olmert’s resignation & was the first to do so. For that she deserves credit even if she didn’t do the right thing & resign herself.
“Livni called for Olmert’s resignation & was the first to do so.”
Hardly. Before Livni called on him to resign Coalition chairman, Knesset Member Avigdor Itzchaky (Kadima) called on him to resign. Eventually Itzchaky himself resigned in protest.
Cabinet member Eitan Cabel called on him to resign and quit the cabinet in protest.
Kadima MK Marina Solodkin also declared that Olmert should resign.
Knesset Member Michael Nudelman (Kadima) called on Olmert to resign but later retracted.
Only after all of them did Livni call on Olmert to resign, but of course did nothing about it.
I don’t hate Livni, but I don’t see her as being an effective leader either. Just happened to be in the right place at the right time to collect the spoils of Olmert’s demise.
Richard Silverstein says
@amir: I stand corrected. But Livni is far the most politically prominent of all those mentioned who is in Kadima. So she took a calculated risk in making the stand she did since she was a member of the same party as Olmert & knew she would be endangering her status should she fail & Olmert survive.