Like the fabled rooster who thinks he is a nightingale, almost all the parties that will be represented in the 17th Knesset have declared victory, even though their actual achievements were mediocre or worse. With their chests puffed up with pride for no reason, the party leaders are setting unjustifiably high conditions for joining the governing coalition even before the start of negotiations, while forgetting the lesson they supposedly learned just five days ago: This type of behavior leads to a loss of credibility and eventually to a loss of Knesset seats.
Ehud Olmert claims triumph as head of a party that went from zero to 29 Knesset seats. This is a false representation of facts, because Kadima is not a new party. Rather, it is the product of a split in a deeply rooted political movement. Kadima's election achievement must be measured against the 40 seats held by Likud - of which Kadima was a party - in the outgoing Knesset. Kadima is not Dash (Democratic Movement for Change), which before the 1977 elections was formed out of nothing (but consisted partly of well-known politicians). Kadima is more like David Ben-Gurion's Rafi, which split from Mapai in 1965, or the centrist party that brought together politicians from various parties prior to the 1999 election.
Amir Peretz is boasting about a false achievement, too - after all, we are talking about 20 Knesset members compared to 22 in the outgoing session - and repeating his giddy performance after beating Shimon Peres for the party leadership last fall. The fiery speech he made at the memorial rally for Yitzhak Rabin in Tel Aviv is still stuck in one's memory; the positions that he has taken since the election results were publicized last week are an expression of the same arrogant mood.
Eli Yishai also is claiming great success, even though Shas will only have one more MK in the new Knesset, and even Benny Alon is trying to put a positive spin on the results of his National Union-National Religious Party.
The truth, however, is hard to deny: only two parties can stake a claim to laurels in this election, Yisrael Beiteinu and the Pensioners Party. All the rest were mediocre at best. The coalition negotiations will be based on the number of Knesset seats of each party, not their internal morale or self-defined image.
Overall, the public relations flacks and spin doctors should be kept away from the negotiating table: The willingness of individuals to accept their role in politics is abating, while skepticism about their potential contribution to building the coalition is rising. Does Amir Peretz truly believe that issuing announcements about his supposedly secret contacts with Eli Yishai will make Olmert sweat, and does Olmert think that leaking remarks he ostensibly made about preferring Avigdor Lieberman as a coalition partner will cause Peretz to reduce his price for entering the government?
The role of the pollsters, political strategists and advertising executives in the election campaign deserves a comprehensive examination, but their job is finished: The coalition negotiations must be based on the proportionate parliamentary power of each party. The chorus whispering into the ears of the negotiators is superfluous: The composition of the coalition will be determined by political data, not by media manipulation.
By political data we mean the number of Knesset seats, and the positions and the leadership abilities of the party heads. The election results compel nearly all the parties to behave with humility; the overwhelming majority have little bargaining power. They must lower their sights in order to fulfill their public duty of forming a government and an opposition in a timely manner. The public expects gravitas and responsibility from its elected officials, not trendy gimmicks and hollow demagoguery.
This is particularly apposite when it comes to the sweeping economic demands of Labor and the ultra-Orthodox parties, which are unrealistic and unjustified. Corrections must be made to the current economic policy, but we must mot return to the era in which the welfare system encouraged laziness. Instead, we must work toward creating new employment opportunities for disadvantaged populations.
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