Text size

Israel is not a banana republic, Abba Eban once said; it is a country that slips on bananas. One way or the other, the end of 2004 brings us to the 10th year of what can be called the Fourth Republic, perhaps a more sputtering and wasted period than all its predecessors.

It began with the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin and has since been moving ponderously and aimlessly. It is now led by a person whose career had its origins in the period of David Ben-Gurion, who in the 1950s demanded that the brilliant young officer Ariel Sharon abandon his habit of speaking "untruths." He is now being joined by the eldest of the politicians, who sprang up under the leader of the First Republic in the period of Stalin-Truman-Churchill. In no other country does an anachronistic situation like this exist, between slipping and tripping.

The transition between the eras of government always lagged behind here. This fear-ridden nation seems to find it difficult to reconsider things and part with the leadership, notwithstanding all its failures. The Labor Alignment went down to defeat three and a half years after a great victory immediately following the Yom Kippur War. Until then, the premiership of the first sabra leader, Yitzhak Rabin, was a short, failing flash.

Menachem Begin, despised by Ben-Gurion and his successors, led the Second Republic with the support of wide segments of the population, which until then had roiled under a government that ignored them. They are not nice, Golda Meir said about the leaders of the revolt of the Mizrahim. She also denied the existence of the Palestinians. The Begin government changed the national agenda, but gradually decayed in an accursed, impotent war. I cannot go on any longer, he groaned, and faded away. In the Second Republic, the disappointments from Likud and Labor were balanced and engendered the age of rotation. Rabin's renewed promise was the start of the third chapter. Pistol bullets from the right cut him down and with him the new direction he heralded.

Now there is a chance for another new start, after the embarrassing episodes of Benjamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak, and amid total disorientation within the ruling party. It is held together by Sharon; as his decline nears, the time of the Fifth Republic will come. Like previous upheavals, which took their time in coming, it is portended by the end of the agenda of the serving government. The Likud is operating contrary to the will of the leader and the wish of the majority. It is therefore fated to go down. Labor, in contrast, thinks rightly but behaves badly. Its linking with the Likud shows that the sufficient conditions for a political change have not yet jelled. Still, the end of the year saw some faint stirrings of awakening by the princess of the past who is slumbering above the pea.

There is no Charles de Gaulle-like figure here to declare a Fifth Republic after a period of decay. Yet there is deep yearning for change. There is a majority for the territorial price that is demanded for a quid pro quo. In the final weeks of 2004 - so it seems, at least - aversion to the faces and flapping tongues of the settlers' PR people surged, even among hesitant Israelis. The extremists among the settlers, those who always led, made a crazed mistake. Wearing the orange Star of David, and with growing despair, they portrayed their opponents as Nazis and the evacuation as a death train to the extermination camps. There is a limit, the majority camp will tell them.

Economic recovery, which attached an impressive growth rate of 4.2 percent to 2004, is not perceived by judicious Israelis as proof that it is possible to grow even in conditions of occupation. It was rather a success that was achieved with great effort, despite the occupation. It will be crushed under the occupation if it continues. The Fifth Republic will make possible normalization, for which the subjects of the present regime long more than anything, only if realistic borders are created, excluding the Palestinians. What the hell - this is a successful country with good prospects, and it will continue to be so only on condition that it is not interfered with from above. If the next generation of leaders wants it very much, and if their determination does not shame their ambition, it is no dream. The time for proof will not wait beyond the year that begins tonight with a midnight kiss.