According to a Haaretz-Dialog poll conducted last week, Likud led by Benjamin Netanyahu is the biggest beneficiary of the envelope scandal. Forty percent of those questioned listed "an upstanding character" as the most important trait of a prime ministerial candidate. The desire to ensure the security of the state came second (23 percent), and the ability to advance peace trailed along in third place (19 percent). It seems, then, that a significant share of the 35 Knesset seats that the poll forecasts for Likud - twice as many as the Labor Party and Kadima combined - would come its way thanks to its leaders' cleaner hands.
It is worth mentioning, therefore, that when Morris Talansky was pampering Ehud Olmert, he was hoping to anoint him head of Likud. Even the other affairs, such as the Investments Center, are related to the period when Olmert was a member of the government as a representative of Likud. Kadima had not yet been born when Omri Sharon got entangled in his father's primary-race funds. Senior Kadima members Abraham Hirchson and Tzachi Hanegbi brought their lawsuits with them from their previous party.
Likud has benefited from the chaos thanks also to the unilateral disengagement from the Gaza Strip, which paved the way for Hamas' takeover there and for missiles to fall in the heart of Ashkelon. Ariel Sharon initiated and carried out this plan under the Likud flag. Finance minister Netanyahu approved the budget for the disengagement administration; foreign minister Silvan Shalom praised the plan in the world's capitals. Education minister Limor Livnat and MK Yisrael Katz voted in favor of it in all of its readings. Only one minister, Uzi Landau, and one deputy minister, Michael Ratzon, voted against the disengagement and were summarily sent home.
Kadima has not managed to create its own political culture. In effect, to this day, it has not succeeded in leaving a mark on any sphere in which a ruling party is involved. Olmert's most important contribution, and what distinguishes him from Netanyahu (and also from Ehud Barak), is the replacement of the unilateral solution with the principle of consent. Sharon translated Barak's "no-partner" doctrine into a strategy of crushing the Palestinian Authority, eliminating the political option and the unilateral approach. Olmert brought the term "permanent arrangement" back into public discourse, and transformed Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) into a regular sight on Israelis' televisions. Too bad the peace with Syria appeared again on the agenda in the shadow of Talansky's harsh testimony. Thanks to these processes, Olmert deserves a place in the history books, not only as the person responsible for the debacle in Lebanon and as a cigar-loving political hack.
It seems that Olmert will have to drop the plan to go to elections with a "shelf" agreement that would present the principles of a permanent arrangement, and with a draft of a peace agreement between Israel and Syria. Even the Palestinians have learned that when the Israelis start talking about elections, they are not willing to hear about the division of Jerusalem and the refugee problem. But if he really does believe that in the absence of a two-state solution, "the Jewish state is finished," Olmert must see to it that the next government, whatever its composition, finds Palestinian partners for that very solution.
The fate of these partners is now in Olmert's hands. If he continues toying with the Egyptian outline for a cease-fire (tahadiyeh) in Gaza, one more missile striking an apartment building in Ashkelon will be enough for the government to drag the Israel Defense Forces into a blood-soaked campaign deep inside the Gaza Strip. On the other hand, a siege of 1.5 million citizens cannot last forever, and eventually will explode. In both cases, the Fatah leadership led by Abu Mazen, which is perceived as a collaborator with Israel, will emerge by the skin of its teeth. This is why Hamas' sworn enemies are supporting, if not almost begging, for Olmert to sign the tahadiyeh agreement, and to open the border crossings between the Gaza Strip and Israel. The Egyptians are hinting that they are saving the opening of the Rafah crossing for the next stage of the deal, which will include the return of abducted soldier Gilad Shalit.
In addition to keeping the situation in the Gaza Strip quiet, Olmert has an additional series of means at his disposal that can enhance the status of the Palestinian partners, until the political situation in Israel is clarified. All he has to do is pull out of the drawer the list of promises he made to Abu Mazen (and to the Americans) and instruct the defense establishment to uphold them in spirit and in practice. The prime minister, after all, claims that he is continuing to carry out his duties in the best possible way even during the very difficult times he is experiencing.
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