Declarations and slogans voiced by prime ministerial candidates always sound good at the time, and are usually forgotten once the polls have closed and the political establishment returns to the daily grind. Such has been the case in all previous election campaigns, but the 2006 campaign appears even more delusional and detached from reality than its predecessors. Hamas' victory in the Palestinian elections and the steps taken since then have made the political platforms of the large parties irrelevant.
The poster ads of the ruling party promise "A strong leadership for peace." The leader, however, is hidden; Ehud Olmert's name appears in small print. His face peers out only from the Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu posters. And the slogan comes across as a stale rehash from an Ariel Sharon campaign, and raises the question: With whom exactly will the Kadima leaders make peace? With the Hamas government, the "terrorist authority," in the words of Olmert? Is he intent on keeping his promise to establish a Palestinian state and improve the living conditions of the territories' residents, as he declared in his "Herzliya address?" And what about Sunday's cabinet decision to reduce ties gradually with the Palestinian Authority?
There is something troubling about the Kadima campaign, which is ignoring the dramatic events on the other side of the fence. It is understandable that the acting prime minister and his colleagues wish to put on a cool facade and disregard Benjamin Netanyahu's smolmert [a play on the Hebrew word for left] attacks. But the public has the right to hear from them more than just vague promises of "peace." A ruling party, which is slated to win the elections, also should offer its views on the reality that will dictate the next government's steps.
Labor's predicament is even graver. The Hamas victory has wiped Amir Peretz's socioeconomic campaign right off the agenda. Now they are looking for a war-and-peace message that will set Peretz apart from Olmert. On Saturday, the savior was found - PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas. Labor officials heard his address at the swearing-in of the Palestinian parliament in Ramallah, and declared him "a brave partner for talks." Gimme a break. A partner for what exactly? Virtual agreement? That's Yossi Beilin's speciality, and it's not nice to steal from him. Abbas, in any case, has a hard time tying his own shoelaces. He didn't do a thing even when Fatah was in power. What exactly is he going to speak to Peretz about? And what are his promises worth?
Netanyahu has considered Hamas' rise to power in earnest, and has rested his campaign on it. But while others have shown indifference, he has gone overboard in panic. Hamas is a hostile and murderous organization, but its victory in the Palestinian elections is a far cry from being a "holocaust." It is difficult to believe that from Netanyahu's perspective, Israel, with its powerful military and developed economy, is in the same situation as the Jews of Europe were in the face of the Nazis.
The solutions being offered by the Likud don't hold water either. Netanyahu wants to fence in the Palestinian population centers in the West Bank, and leave within the fenced-off area the isolated settlements - out of concern that their dismantling would be perceived as weakness.
And how will he deal with the expected international outcry? He will send a PR delegation to Washington, and send off communiques to European leaders. And what will he do if they aren't convinced - just like in the past, when they rejected his "legal settlements" arguments?
Finance minister Netanyahu has spoken much about "the tsunami of the markets," and about globalization and how it has stripped governments of their independence and freedom to make decisions. When it comes to prime ministerial candidate Netanyahu, the international community is insignificant, and the government of Israel can annex territories at will.
The time has come to say to the candidates: enough. Enough of the trickery and the irrelevant slogans. Instead, it would be best to take reality seriously.
But this would be too much to ask at campaign time. Reality won't return from vacation before March 29.
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