In the elections for the 10th Knesset, in June 1981, the people of Israel went to sleep knowing that Shimon Peres had defeated Menachem Begin in the television exit poll. Moreover, the spokesman for Peres' campaign headquarters, Israel Peleg, invited the foreign press corps to meet with Peres at 2 A.M., with the unforgettable words, "gentlemen, please meet the next prime minister of Israel."
In the morning, the people of Israel awoke to a new dawn, with the dramatic report that in the final count, Begin had defeated Peres by just one seat and would serve as prime minister for a second term. When the furious and shamed Peres argued that the difference was only one seat (47-48), Begin replied, "Even a one-seat advantage is both a political and a moral victory." Based on that principle, Livni, too, is the winner because of her one-seat advantage. But in our day, the personal, political and moral achievement depends not on the lone vote but on the party bloc that the contestant for the premiership is capable of cobbling together. At the same time, it is important and meaningful that voters braved the rain and the wind to go to the polling stations in order to increase Kadima's Knesset seats from 23 (from initial pre-election surveys) to 28 - and to thereby top the Likud by one seat - to prevent the formation of an extreme right-wing government. This is both a moral and a political achievement. In Livni's victory speech, one could discern that she does indeed represent a different kind of politics.
Benjamin Netanyahu, too, 10 years after suffering defeat as prime minister, grasped that the trend is against the far right. That is why he himself dumped the Feiglin types and diversified Likud with a few moderate faces. The rise of Avigdor Lieberman, whose style of speech doesn't just frighten kids, stirred in the public the fear that in a situation of stalemate, Netanyahu would be tempted to put the far right back in power.
Internal surveys about the state of the nation show that the fear level in Israel is at one of its highest points ever: 60 percent of Israelis are pessimistic about the country's future. With Lieberman inside or supporting from the outside, this is a dangerous pairing. The Likud itself is not free of extremists. But they are in the 16th slot and below on the list of candidates and are waiting for the opportunity to restore Likud's days of yore. A right-wing government with Lieberman and Shas, says a knowledgeable person, will not last more than six months. Lieberman has an agenda that favors immigrants from Russia and conflicts with everything Shas believes in. And with Obama on the horizon, complete and utter desolation is written on the wall. If during most of Israel's history, Labor, under its different names, was a central ruling party, whether in power or in the opposition, it has now shrunk to 13 seats and is thus slowly ending its historic mission. It is a worldwide phenomenon for big parties to fade away over time and cease to be relevant. The fact that this is happening to Labor just when a person with a glorious military past is heading it is no coincidence. Just as happened often in the transition of generals to politics, he, too, made every possible mistake as a politician, such as bringing about an early election precisely when he and Livni could have remained in the same government until the election scheduled for 2010. In normal circumstances, Barak would be removed as party leader, but it would be a mistake to take that course of action now, when the party's support will be required in the formation of the government.
Whereas parties such as Dash, Shinui and the Pensioners disappeared, it is clear from Kadima's achievement in the elections that it has struck roots. It is composed of the lost votes of Meretz, Labor and the Likudniks who followed Sharon and are remaining there. The only way to preserve Kadima as a stable center party, in light of the challenges that face the country, is with Livni at its head, in a coalition with Netanyahu - with all the titles and powers a senior partner accrues. A kind of Israel-style cohabitation. With Labor as a small partner and a big defense minister, and with the goal of leaving the far right out of the government.
Some are toying with the idea of forming a rotation government. But that kind of government was possible only once, with Yitzhak Shamir, whose only interest was for the Greater Israel dream to remain intact. The lowering of the inflation rate by hundreds of percent and the termination of the Lebanon War, with which Peres and Rabin were engaged in the first two years of the rotation, did not affect Shamir's daily afternoon schlaffstunde in his home.
Livni and Netanyahu have a great deal in common. Both were born after the state's establishment and both come from the national camp. If they join hands, both have the background and the political impulse to address the challenges of the hour, from Obama to Ahmadinejad. We can rest assured that President Shimon Peres, who has experience deserving of a Nobel Prize, or an Oscar, when it comes to politicking and political intrigue, can and must bring about the establishment of a government of national salvation.
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