Politicians can fight all day, Netanyahu is here to stay
The question the Americans asked about Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton is liable to be asked during our next election campaign.
If we keep using letters in every sex scandal or quasi-scandal, we run the risk of using up the alphabet. Did N. harass R.? And what was P.'s mobile phone doing near R.'s skirt? And suppose Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office is being run scandalously, and the bureau chief, with everything on his plate, has to update Sara about what's happening in our little world and our big world. So what?
Too many front page headlines, too much schadenfreude. No matter how much we focus on the story of R.'s skirt, it's still not clear what this scandal of the season is about and what caused him, il capo di tutti capi at the Prime Minister's Bureau, to get himself in a pickle like this. Is he really in a pickle?
Behind what happened or didn't happen below the belt hides a painful truth: The skirt track isn't generating a candidate to replace the prime minister - a replacement the public could greet with joyful cries of "Eureka!" The right is getting stronger and the center-left at the moment doesn't stand a chance of presenting a real alternative. Neither Labor Party chief Shelly Yachimovich nor opposition leader Tzipi Livni are anywhere near being considered an alternative prime minister.
In the absence of a real competitor, Bibi's fans are depicting him as a Clinton, a Roosevelt, a Kissinger and even a Panetta. He's everything. His English is excellent, his voice is masculine, his face is handsome, his hairdo is designer quality, and world leaders, even if they don't trust him, meet with him.
We've reached the point where the center and the left are disappointed, for example, with Labor, and where retired Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi isn't allowed to run for office yet. What's that about? Who says he's a suitable candidate for prime minister? TV anchorman Yair Lapid thought he'd reach the top if he could put a Dr. in front of his name, and Kadima's Shaul Mofaz thinks he's a winning card.
What's that about? What's such pretension based on? Vice Prime Minister Silvan Shalom struts his stuff as if he's a potential leader of the nation - but in the meantime American billionaire Ron Lauder has to intervene to enable Shalom to sit at the prime minister's side. That's the only merging of exiles on that side of the government; the two men barely exchange a word.
The painful truth is that the right has a candidate for prime minister who's perceived as a national leader and who's on the way to becoming the only Israeli leader to win three terms as prime minister. In the country's history, no prime minister has dreamed of that without the public laughing or rebelling.
Since David Ben-Gurion, Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres we haven't had obvious candidates for this exalted position. The same might have been said about Ehud Barak, but something strange happened to him on his way to glory. He realized that the winds of public opinion were blowing to the right, not to the left. He realized that the geopolitical environment was strengthening the right, which believes there's no one to talk to and that in this atmosphere a leader from the left doesn't stand a chance.
So he abandoned the Labor Party and sooner or later he'll join up with Likud as a partner or competitor of Bibi. Barak has contributed to the sense that the left is impotent. The result, says one of his admirers, is that a whole box of Viagra won't rescue the left from its woes.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is weak and the Arab world is putting the most extreme religious elements in power. The power of the settlers and their political supporters is increasing - see Moshe Feiglin's success in the Likud primary. In any case, Likud doesn't even need Feiglin to pursue a rightist policy. Never mind that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is contributing to Israel's extreme political atmosphere. Allah is everywhere.
The most worrying survey showed that 80 percent of Israelis believe in God. We're not talking here about belief in the Muslim Brotherhood's style, but this number is another element in the weakening of the left, the strengthening of the right, the reinforcement of the rabbis' rule and the sanctity of the territories - and the continuation of the Bibi regime.
When Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were vying for the U.S. presidential nomination, Hillary asked the knockout question at her rallies: Who would you want to answer the phone at 3 o'clock in the morning? The same question is liable to be asked in the elections for the next prime minister. When the red telephone rings at 3 o'clock in the morning, who do we want to pick up the receiver?