Analysis |

If Olmert Didn't Exist, Netanyahu Would Have Had to Invent Him

After former PM Ehud Olmert accused Netanyahu of flushing public money down the toilet on unnecessary preparations for an Iran attack, the latter didn't hesitate to respond. How convenient to exchange snarls with a man who isn't actually a contender.

Yossi Verter
Yossi Verter
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Yossi Verter
Yossi Verter

This week we found out what the deathly dull election season would have looked like if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had a worthy opponent.

Some 48 hours have passed since former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert accused Netanyahu of flushing NIS 11 billion of the public's money down the toilet, spending it on unnecessary preparations for an attack on Iran. Suddenly we find ourselves in the midst of a substantive, lively, emotional argument between two prime ministers (incumbent and former) on issues of the utmost gravity: Iran and Syria, expanding the settlements versus disengagement, responsibility versus rashness.

It was a pure joy to watch. Olmert is evidently planning to contend against Netanyahu the next time around. What we're seeing now is a trailer to the preview of the big face-off.

For weeks the leading contenders in the present race, Tzipi Livni, Shelly Yacimovich and Yair Lapid, have been trying to drag Netanyahu into verbal combat over the peace process, over socioeconomic issues and over civil rights, all for naught. He hasn't responded to their provocations. They've had to resort to gimmickry. Yacimovich debates with recordings of Netanyahu's speeches. Lapid reenacted Netanyahu's UN General Assembly speech in which he used a cartoonish drawing of a bomb to illustrate the Iranian nuclear threat.

Nada. Netanyahu doesn't give a fig for any of them. They're like fleas. The only time Netanyahu stirred was when he thought he had a golden opportunity to deliver a body-blow to right-wing Habayit Hayehudi leader Naftali Bennett, who's been gaining a great deal of attention. Bennett remarked that as a soldier, he'd have refused commands to evacuate settlements. Well, the one who got slammed over that story wasn't Bennett.

For now, Netanyahu is going with sure things. When he responded to Olmert's comments, the prime minister did so through a press release, in interviews, during his remarks at cabinet meetings and during a tour of the North. Netanyahu didn't risk his hide one bit. Olmert isn't running in the elections anyway. He is hated by the right wing in general and by Likudniks in particular. For Netanyahu, Olmert is a convenient target, in fact, the most convenient of targets.

This was exactly the type of debate Netanyahu was looking for – anything but a contender with whom he might clash. Olmert was a great convenience. Netanyahu would also be delighted if the Iranian issue takes front and center on the public agenda in the eight days remaining before the polls. What's the alternative, to discuss the government's huge budget deficit?

Demon left arises to overthrow God and country

By a twist of fate, on Friday two weeks ago, Olmert's heir to the Kadima leadership – Tzipi Livni – floated a proposal to unite Israel's center-left parties. It took just two days for the gauzy dream of union to collapse in Livni's face and for her colleagues on the center-left, Yair Lapid and Shelly Yacimovich, to tar and feather her. Meanwhile, Likud took advantage of Livni's ill-starred initiative in order to sound the alarm on the wicked, demonic Left which had come back to life in order to overthrow, heaven save us, our dear leader.

A week later, Livni's predecessor at Kadima's helm, Olmert, came to the same Channel 2 TV studio and shot off the Iranian issue into the political atmosphere. Yet again, Likudniks rejoiced. For when Olmert speaks out against Netanyahu he summons the ghosts of the Gaza disengagement, his far-reaching peace offer to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and the split that tore apart and almost destroyed the Likud and led to the establishment of Kadima. If Olmert didn't exist, the Likud would have had to invent him.

Benjamin Netanyahu and Ehud OlmertCredit: Daniel Bar-On

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