A Nothing Government

Never, it seems, has a government with such low - justifiably - expectations been formed here.

Just a few more more "dramatic," "decisive" and even "crucial" nocturnal meetings (all described as "very good") to go before yet another coalition is created. David Glass may yet draft a "redeeming" formula with Yoram Rabad. And so, Tzipi Livni will be prime minister, Ehud Barak will be probably the most senior deputy and potential opposition head, and Israel will gain another nothing government.

This may be the most dangerous corruption of all - the nothing governments. The ministers will stretch out comfortably in their armchairs as they squander our dwindling time and resources. Their bodyguards will watch over them closely, their chauffeurs will drive them nowhere and everyone will treat them with awe and respect. Puffed up with self-importance, they will recite their hollow outdated slogans while they merrily head off for a dead end.

Who knows, maybe Moshe Sharoni will be appointed minister (what a refreshing development), Barak will be in charge of security, born diplomat Shaul Mofaz will be in charge of foreign affairs and Isaac Herzog and Eli Yishai will take care of the poor people again, as they have done so far. Benjamin Ben-Eliezer will see to the refineries and Ruhama Avraham Balila to the tourists. Nothing good will come of any of this, except to arrange powerful, important jobs for these people for two more years.

Never, it seems, has a government with such low - justifiably - expectations been formed here. Rivals Livni and Barak will act with the utmost vigor to prevent the tiniest bit of achievement from coloring the other's name. If Barak wants to make peace with Syria, Livni will block him. If Livni seeks peace with the Palestinians, count on the defense minister to undermine her efforts.

Thus far in the coalition negotiations, they have only talked about who would conduct the talks with Syria, not their content - proving how little remains of the first Barak, the prime minister who appeared more daring than all of his predecessors.

The media will cite the confidants, who squabble over every semblance of an achievement, and bad blood will flow between the two bureaus, threatening to engulf us all. Livni and Barak will make us miss Olmert's government, not to mention previous odd couples Rabin-Peres in Rabin's first government and Shamir-Peres in the second national unity government.

Not that Livni and Barak don't share common ground. All they both want is to gather strength for the elections in two years. This is their purpose in setting up the government, and since it's a zero-sum game, it will come at each other's expense and at the expense of us all. Until then, Livni wants this line to read in her resume: I was prime minister. Barak is afraid of elections, and his every move now is aimed at bolstering his honor and status. Together, these two will lead us to the brink of an abyss.

Meretz, too, must be warned now: Attention, nothing government ahead. If anything remains of your former pretensions, you have nothing to look for in this emptiness. In this state of affairs, there is no choice but to hold elections. Granted, elections could bring new evils - Likud's rise to power - or old evils - the return of the status quo. But a stone must now be thrown into these shallow waters. In a perfect world, the three candidates for prime minister would be told: Move out of the way; none of you is worthy; two of you have already failed and the ideological differences between the three of you are blurred.

But the chance of our seeing such a change is non-existent. So, unfortunately, we shall pin our hopes on elections that may bring a breath of fresh air into the foundering political arena, if only for a moment. Perhaps some new movement will appear, perhaps not. Perhaps Livni will be elected with a considerable majority that would strengthen her resolve to do more than merely survive. But even if Benjamin Netanyahu, who is not fundamentally different than his two rivals, is elected, at least we'll know that this is what the nation - the indifferent, complacent nation - wants.

A prime minister elected in general elections will be more committed to acting than one appointed by means of deals and arrangements. Buoyed by public success, the elected prime minister could be hoped to act with more courage than one whose way to the premier's bureau was paved by back-slapping in sweaty bar-mitzvah parties.

It's not easy to choose between two evils - a nothing government or elections that would probably bring about no great change. And yet, the process of forming the coalition, and Barak's behavior in particular, portend its certain failure. If one must choose between a bad foregone conclusion and the slightest hint of change, the only choice is elections.