The separation of Ariel Sharon from the title "prime minister" brings to an end the long vacation from political life as we knew it that the country has been on since 2000.
The five years of Prime Minister Sharon were indeed packed with action and misdeeds, blood, victims and political intrigue, way beyond the regular dosage. They were a time of a weird, hyper-realistic and somewhat smug atmosphere. One could even call it post-political.
One man - surrounded by his offspring, advisers and confidants, protected both in his puns and his silences, hypnotizing with his magic tricks - filled the whole stage, while our entire political life, regardless of party, took a seat in the gallery. Simha Ehrlich's old prophecy of doom, from Sharon's early days in politics, that Sharon would surround the Knesset with tanks - was realized beyond our wildest expectations, even without tanks. Sharon himself surrounded the Knesset.
Reawakening from the Sharon era, we are reluctant and sluggish. The political players, even those hired by the electorate, feel uncomfortable returning to center stage where the blockbuster virtuoso juggled solo for five years. They apparently fear that in comparison to him, they will be exposed as awkward, diminished, lacking charisma. Ehud Olmert, the heir, looks awkward, like Walter Matthau miscast as Casanova. Amir Peretz has already tripped over his cape during his grand entrance on the national stage, to hoots of laughter and contempt. No more of Labor's settling majestically into the theatrical armchair of power - instead it bumbles through a game of musical chairs to the sound of insults and blunders.
Even the representatives of the religious parties, from United Torah Judaism (UTJ) to Shas, who used to make a dramatic entrance after every election, bearing huge baskets of demands, seem slightly embarrassed this time, blinking in the limelight after a long absence. The words "allocations" and "yeshiva students" are implied. There is a readiness "for a graduality in the allocation policy." They insist that "everything be done legally." Treading gingerly, they seem hesitant to trample once again on the secular, Israeli spirit that somehow prevailed in Sharon's era.
Confusion and and disarray are everywhere, except in the one department and one player where shame and reassessment should be paramount - the security policy and the defense minister who led it. Five years of all-out war against Hamas ended with Hamas in power, and this actually surprised the intelligence service. Likewise, the vow "to sear Palestinian consciousness" ended just where it began - with dozens of terrorist alerts. Thus, one might expect a modicum of hesitation and humility from this quarter during the change of government. One might especially expect it from the likes of Shaul Mofaz, a politician who has given opportunism a bad name.
Mofaz zigzagged crazily between the Likud ("it's home") and Kadima ("Sharon's non democratic party"), between objecting staunchly to the pullout and supporting it. Yet he, of all people, is jumping center stage, demanding to continue as defense minister, as though the job were registered in his name. "Especially in this difficult and dangerous time," he says, like the boy in the Charlie Chaplin movie, who goes round breaking windows, while his friend earns a living by mending them again.
Mofaz lists the threats, terror warnings and dangers like they were his achievements, as though the solutions he is offering - more and more escalation, crushing and killing - are not among the very acts that brought us to this situation. And he humbly adds, in his unique manner: "I think I'll remain defense minister, because the consideration is what is good for Israel... and I believe it is right that I should continue carrying out my duty as defense minister especially at this time, because in defense matters we cannot take a chance...."
Indeed, why try out someone new - Ami Ayalon, for example? Why replace a soothing sense of certainty of bereavement and failure, threat and alert and escalation and gamble on the unknown?
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