One month from now, on January 1, 2008, Ehud Olmert will begin serving in his third year as prime minister. The year 2008 is supposed to be the crucial one with respect to the Iranian atom.
Indeed, according to the Haaretz-Dialog poll, conducted under the supervision of Prof. Camille Fuchs of Tel Aviv University, on the day after the Annapolis conference, this is the existential threat hovering over the State of Israel - this is the true core issue: an atomic bomb in the hands of the madman in Tehran.
On this subject, which is so very sensitive, Olmert is awarded humiliating percentages of support. His only consolation is that his deputy, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, is awarded an even lower percentage: 8 percent and 6 percent, respectively. All of Livni's popularity among the common folk evaporates when the citizen at home is asked to imagine her sitting in the Prime Minister's Bureau by the red telephone, as the heads of intelligence and of the military establishment await her every word.
If the public sees Olmert as frivolous and irresponsible, because of his performance in the Second Lebanon War, Livni is without a doubt perceived as a featherweight. It is hard to decide which is more embarrassing: the fact that a right-wing, extremist, rabble-rousing politician like Minister of Strategic Affairs Avigdor Lieberman wins a rate of support equal to Olmert's and Livni's together, or that opposition leader Likud MK Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu, who is not especially remembered for being a cool-headed prime minister, was ranked first, because 31 percent of the public would rely on him to know how to deal with the Iranian problem.
And perhaps the prime minister and his deputy will be upset that, of all people, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, whom the public does not really like, is ranked second in this opinion poll, with 20 percent support? In fact, Barak won't like this datum much either. He, the most decorated fighter ever in the Israel Defense Forces, who has been chief of staff, prime minister and defense minister, receives only 20 percent?! Eleven percent less than Bibi?
While this poll examined many questions, most of them on the Israeli-Palestinian issue, it appears that the Iranian issue and the public's attitude toward the decision-makers who are concerned with it are more interesting. A few days after Annapolis and two weeks before the start of negotiations on a permanent status agreement, the Israeli public is doubtful and skeptical.
The Annapolis summit - in which so much was invested, and which was so extravagant and full of Arab foreign ministers and high-flown, emotional and optimistic speeches - has left the public indifferent. Perhaps the sour commentators, who churned out hundreds of thousands of words on television on Tuesday, prompted respondents to formulate a reserved, indifferent and alienated view of the conference. Most of the respondents think of the conference as a "failure." Why? Was there a joint declaration? There was. Did the Saudi come? He came. Did U.S. President George W. Bush embrace and flatter people? He embraced and flattered. Was Olmert accorded respect? Indeed, he was. The Israeli leadership, so well-endowed with talent and ego, evinced a united front for change. Nevertheless, the respondents see the conference as a failure although there is general support for a final status agreement - support that appears in every survey. The public is fed up with the conflict. It is prepared to give things up and make sacrifices - but it wants to get its money's worth.
The public does not believe that a permanent status agreement will emerge from this strange concoction; it does not believe in the ability of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) to crush the Hamas and Jihad militias; and it does not believe that the current Israeli leadership will lead it to safe shores - certainly not by the end of 2008. Three leaders set out for Annapolis: one prime minister and two cabinet ministers, who once called upon him to resign. Apart from Olmert, who nudged the public's rate of satisfaction with him up by several percentage points (okay, in his situation he can only go up), neither Livni nor Barak was able to collect a political coupon from the American festival.
There were more respondents (30 percent) who stated that their faith in "the joint leadership" has shrunk in the wake of the conference than those who said that their faith in the trio has increased (22 percent). According to the satisfaction index that Haaretz uses regularly, there has been no change in Livni's standing: Though she is still in the lead, one might have expected that the positive coverage she received and her high profile in the negotiations would afford her more points. This didn't happen, possibly because she was not perceived as the real leader of the process, but rather as an envoy of Olmert's - the attorney's attorney. At the time he wondered whether her appointment as head of the negotiating team, and the preference of her over his disappointed and somewhat bitter buddy Minister Without Portfolio Haim Ramon, would serve as a political springboard for her. Not only did this not happen, but henceforth Livni is invested in the negotiations and thus beholden to Olmert. There is no way she is going to call upon him to resign again.
It could have been expected that Barak's chilly attitude toward the conference would earn him points. However, he, who at the last minute hopped onto the Annapolis wagon and is now identified with it, like Olmert and Livni, is getting battered from both directions: both because he is part of what some see as a failed conference, and also because he did not make any significant contribution to it. In the coming weeks, ahead of the publication of the full Winograd report on the Second Lebanon War, Barak will be at the center of public attention. The prevailing assumption in political circles is that he will find it hard to keep his promise from the days of the primaries to quit the government when the report is published - because of the diplomatic process, because of the strengthening of the right, because none of his Labor Party cabinet ministers want this, and because National Infrastructures Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer will be angry.
Perhaps despite everything it will be worth it for Barak to quit, and that's it. What is he gaining by being a member of the government? His party is barely scraping up 23 or 24 Knesset seats. His built-in advantage as defense minister in fact strengthens Olmert, who gradually and indirectly is ascendant and also strengthening Kadima, which has chalked up a mild rise in recent months in the poll, from 11 to 13 or even 15 seats. Barak is giving some political oxygen to Olmert and Kadima, but this oxygen is coming from him and his party's lungs. This week he even lost the traditional status of the Labor Party chairman as "head of the peace camp." At the moment, Olmert, who made a peace speech at a conference, is located in this particular square. Barak most likely needs a few "healthy" months in the opposition in order to take off again.
The Winograd report will be the turning point. From this week's survey it emerges that most of the public thinks Barak ought to resign. But what is more critical for him is the position of Labor Party voters. Of them, 34 percent are calling upon him to remain in the government, 12 percent recommend that he "call for the replacement of Olmert" (another way of saying "don't do anything"), and 32 percent recommend that he "resign immediately." That is, most of his voters think resignation and early elections are not a desirable move.
Between Lieberman and Winograd
Olmert bid farewell early yesterday to the rarefied air of Washington and Annapolis and landed in the threatening stuffiness of the Knesset. On Wednesday, as he was discussing Iranian issues tete-a-tetewith Bush, the girdle his coalition was wearing began to come undone because of the quarrels between Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann and the Labor faction in the Knesset. Perhaps it would be a good idea if Olmert had a friendly word with Friedmann? If Ehud Barak is looking for a good reason to escape, with or without a connection to the Winograd report, why play into his hands?
The problems Olmert left behind upon his departure for the United States had not changed much upon his return. Most of the criminal cases and investigations are still ahead of him, as is the Winograd report and the political shakeup it is likely to spur - as well, of course, as the usual threats from the right to quit if anything moves in the political process. If Barak doesn't quit after Winograd, Olmert has two or three months of quiet.
However, it is reasonable to assume that in the midst of the negotiations with the Palestinians, Israel will be required to evacuate some outposts, as it has committed itself to doing in the first phase of the road map. The evacuation of the first outpost will automatically lead to the evacuation of its minister from the Ministry of Strategic Affairs. In recent weeks Avigdor Lieberman has made his position on the matter clear to Olmert and his people. How will Olmert be able to maneuver between Lieberman and Bush, between Barak and Winograd and between Abu Mazen and the terrorists in the Gaza Strip? We shall wait and see. Thus far he has managed quite well.
Jerusalem uber alles?
This week a new campaign for Jerusalem was launched. Campaigns "for Jerusalem" are a cyclical, seasonal matter, like peace conferences. Heading the campaign are former government minister Natan Sharansky and the person who was Benjamin Netanyahu's bureau head, Yehiel Leiter. The donors are of course Americans. For them, Jerusalem is more important than anything else - that is, including the settlements and the occupation in general. What has upset a number of people, including the most Jerusalemite of Jerusalemites, Likud MK Reuven "Ruby" Rivlin, was the campaign's slogan: "Above all, Jerusalem."
For anyone with even a little historical awareness, the phrase "above all" brings to mind the first line of the German national anthem's first stanza, which was written in 1841 and consists of three stanzas. During the Nazi era, it was customary in Germany to sing only the first stanza, which begins with the words "Deutschland, Deutschland uber alles, uber alles in der Welt."
When Roni Milo was running for mayor of Tel Aviv, someone suggested that he adopt the slogan "Tel Aviv above all." Milo rejected the idea outright. A political advisor, who has asked to remain anonymous, has related that a similar idea has come up in many campaigns on which he has worked - and it is always rejected by the candidates. Sharansky, like Leiter, has historical awareness and meant no ill. Maybe they didn't remember, maybe they didn't attribute any importance to it. But it didn't turn out well for them. "Jerusalem really is above everything and before everything else," says Rivlin. "But there are simply things one mustn't write."
Yehiel Leiter responds: "In all the checks we did to find a suitable slogan for the campaign, no one expressed reservations about the slogan. On the contrary, all the focus groups awarded it the most points. Not everything has to be connected automatically to Germany."
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