Even when a serious matter must be dealt with, it immediately turns into a political ax to grind until it becomes blunt and useless.
The fact is, our parliamentary system suffers from chronic instability. It is an affliction that requires speedy treatment. But when the doctor is Avigdor Lieberman, the malady is forgotten while everyone discusses the physician.
Labor objects to Lieberman's inclusion in the government because as things stand today, Olmert depends on Labor. If and when Lieberman's 11 soldiers align to Olmert's right, Labor's influence will be reduced accordingly. Amir Peretz also has personal reasons to object to Lieberman. His status as defense minister will be undermined if Lieberman gets the "Iranian threat" portfolio, which will automatically include regional security issues - a major part of the defense minister's job.
And because it is not nice to object to a man because of who he is and his racist opinions, Labor chose to sabotage Lieberman's entry into the government by objecting to his proposal to change the system of government, despite it being merely an opening position that would serve as a kick-start for a discussion.
Peretz hastened to declare that "we are not ruling him out personally, but there is an abyss between Yisrael Beitenu and Labor."
Where exactly is that abyss? Would Lieberman have started the war in Lebanon faster? Would he have canceled the pullout from the West Bank faster? Would he have destroyed the Gaza power station more thoroughly? Would he have killed more Palestinians than the record number Peretz has achieved? Would he have dismantled more settlements than Peretz, who has dismantled none?
Hence, it would be best to leave the man alone and get back to the subject - stability versus representability.
The political reality is that as soon as a prime minister is elected, he begins the countdown to his departure. The electoral system makes it impossible to set up a stable government for four years. The prime minister is forced to form a coalition with many parties with different interests that are internally split themselves. As soon as the government is set up, it is attacked by both opposition and coalition forces. If the prime minister manages to survive, it is only due to lack of action, odd political maneuvers and exorbitant prices he is forced to pay negligible parties (like, for example, the price that United Torah Judaism is now demanding for entering the government - restoring child allowances to their former size).
When formulating a recovery plan, every business manager knows that at the beginning, there are only expenses, sackings and difficulties, and that the results begin to show only after two to three years. The company starts to turn a profit, and the manager is rewarded. In our parliamentary system, no prime minister has a quiet two-to-three years. He is not even sure of surviving from one month to the next. In its 58 years, Israel's government has changed 31 times - an average of 1.9 years per term.
And this is why the Israeli politician does not invest in the important things - education, infrastructure, transportation, streamlining the public sector and the required revolution in the Israel Defense Forces. He knows he can only begin the "recovery plan," and that someone else will reap the harvest.
All this does not mean that the presidential system Lieberman has proposed is the right solution, but it is clear that the balance between stability and representation must be changed - more stability at the expense of representation. The goal should be to enable the prime minister to plan four years ahead - otherwise the government is ineffective, causing more damage than good.
Perhaps the attempt to add Lieberman to the government is nothing but another of Olmert's spins. It is clear today to Labor's members that they can no longer have their cake and eat it, too. If Peretz cannot muster 19 votes in the budget vote, Olmert will be forced to bring Lieberman, or Netanyahu, or at least United Torah Judaism, into the government to survive. But even if Olmert is only using Lieberman as a threat, what began as spin could perhaps turn into a serious debate, resulting in a good outcome from a bad start.
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