Waiting for the white smoke
Israelis love mini-kebabs. The trouble is that these supposedly dietetic little nuggets have a way of causing stomach upsets.
The Olmert administration is not anywhere near the end of the 100 days of grace customarily granted to a new government. The week marked a month since its inauguration far too early to judge its performance. The euphoria projected by Ehud Olmert doesn't really have a solid base yet, although it's hard to point to any obvious blunder on his part. He said the right things; he did the right things on his travels; and he made the right decisions on the few issues on which he had to decide.
It is clear as day that he intends to uphold Ariel Sharon's decision to bid farewell to the dream of a Greater Israel. Olmert's anger at Major General Giora Eiland for saying that disengagement from the Gaza Strip was a "missed opportunity of historic proportions" comes as no surprise. He called Eiland a scorpion that stings itself, because Eiland was one of the people who helped plan the disengagement.
What was missing from Olmert's remarks was acknowledgment of the true importance of Sharon's initiative his very willingness to end the occupation and prove that Israel is capable of evacuating settlers. Only Sharon had the strength for that. Anyone who comes after him merely follows his lead, and this applies all the more to Olmert, who was a partner to Sharon's vision.
But Olmert is not Sharon, and the answer to the question of whether he is capable of evacuating 80,000 settlers from the West Bank which may require him to use force is not at all clear. This administration has only been around a month, and we are already seeing trouble spots that could burst into flame.
First of all, Kadima won only 29 of the 40 seats it expected in the elections. Therefore, it needs partners. Support for the budget by two small parties, for example, cost the government NIS 600 million. And Labor, Kadima's chief partner, is showing its cracks. Five MKs who think they're the cat's whiskers have risen up against Peretz. Because seven MKs are enough for a faction, the constant threat of a split hovers over the government.
You can't be a politician without a big ego, and people who think that lesser mortals have arrived are gearing up for war. When someone in the "defense establishment" leaks a report that convergence may trigger violent opposition, arrows fly in the direction of the defense minister. Peretz needs to keep an eye on the daggers being pulled out behind his back.
In a setup like this, where everything is personal, Lieutenant General Dan Halutz has managed to carve a niche for himself as the great savior of Israel. He is portrayed as someone who will "steer Peretz in the right direction," or as "furious at Peretz for caving in on cuts in the defense budget." In a lengthy write-up on the chief of staff in Yedioth Ahronoth, Halutz is described as prime minister material, no less. "He thinks big, like Barak and Ben-Gurion." "Next to Halutz, Amir Peretz will have to work hard to keep from being a decoration."
Naturally, the counterattack has taken the form of accusations that Halutz failed to predict the victory of Hamas and hasn't stopped the barrage of Qassams. With articles like these, a badly fractured Labor party, and Kadima barely a party at all, the door is open wide for a rotten government. Those juicy little kebabs could bring on a national stomach ache.
But Olmert is an old political fox, and not easily swayed. He has an organized program. We must plan our moves carefully, he says, but in the long run, convergence is really the way to go. If we can work together with the Palestinians on this and get their consent, "I'll be there." Olmert needs a year to prepare the infrastructure for withdrawal. He needs to take advantage of the window of opportunity offered by Bush's remaining two and a half years in office.
Blackouts, elevators and traffic lights on the blink and airport closures are an outrage, but they are not proof of weakness in a government that has been in power for all of a month. The debates and the decision on the 2007 budget are what will determine this government's agenda.
Many people checked out the chimneys of the Reading power station this week before stepping into their elevators. What we need even more is a plume of white smoke signaling the advent of a government with new and daring priorities.