Analysis Interest Versus Sentiment

One Kadima MK was asked how he will vote today in the presidential election. "In the first round, Colette [Avital]," he said. "In the second round, a blank ballot. In the third round - I'm open to negotiation." In other words, if Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who invested all of his shares in Shimon Peres, promises him a promotion, he will vote for Peres. If not, the Likud candidate, Reuven Rivlin, will benefit.

Another MK, from Labor, debated aloud on Monday with friends in the Knesset cafeteria over whom to vote for: "On the one hand, I'm convinced Rubi [Rivlin] will make a better president. On the other hand, it's very hard for me to vote against Peres. On the third hand, I can't forget how he left us for Kadima. I'd like to see those CEOs who write petitions for Peres in the newspapers vote for a man who left them in their time of need and nearly brought down their company. On the fourth hand, why hand [Likud leader Benjamin] Netanyahu an achievement?"

And so on and so forth. If it were possible to get into the mind of any of the Knesset members who will elect the president today, the array of considerations, interests, settling of scores and insults that would be revealed would provide a field day for any shrink. Some MKs will vote as expected: the right will go with Rivlin; most of Kadima's MKs will vote for Peres. But what will the rest do?

What, for example, will a man like Amir Peretz do? He has every reason in the world to get back at Peres for the abandonment that cost Labor seven seats. But he also has very good reason to vote for Peres, because sources close to Olmert have indicated to him that part of the ministry Peres will vacate - most likely, Negev development - will go to him in a planned reshuffle of Olmert's cabinet. Ma ybe Galilee development will go to an MK from Kadima who is hoping to get into the cabinet in place of Peres.

You can analyze each and every minister, each and every MK in this manner - and still, there is more here than meets the eye. The feeling in the Knesset is that this time, Peres will win. There is a limit to what you can do to the man. Yesterday, the Knesset marked Senior Citizens' Day, and somebody said that if Peres loses again, that would be a form of abusing the elderly.

Ultimately, however, most MKs will act in accordance with political constraints and considerations. Whoever is elected today will, in his or her way, bring honor to the battered and shamed President's Residence. Peres is one of the great men of his generation, a statesman with many accomplishments and much prestige to his name. He would be a statesmanlike president, a president of international conferences, peace initiatives and high-level summits. Rivlin would be a president of a completely different sort - populist, a man for schools and development towns, and perhaps also settlements. Avital, a veteran and extremely polished diplomat, would bring something to the President's Residence that it never had before - a woman.

Today will tell whether the full-press court on Peres's behalf among politicians, the public and the media was a help or a hindrance. Was the clear advantage that Rivlin had at the start of the contest, and throughout most of it, eroded by this campaign, which was multi-tentacled, interdisciplinary, crossing continents and oceans - and rather brutal?

Rivlin built his candidacy on the Knesset-wide fondness and esteem for him. If the elections were determined solely on the basis on sentiment, Rivlin would win big, and Avital might also sweep in quite a few votes. But this is the Knesset, and in a battle of interest versus sentiment, it is hard to predict the outcome - and, where Peres is involved, who has the guts.