Anyone but Bibi

The heirs of the political giants of the past have disappointed the Israeli people, over and over again.

Two events are coming up at the end of this month: One, the first anniversary of the elections that brought Ehud Olmert to power, and two, the interim findings of the Winograd Committee.

Since the military has assumed responsibility for its share in the events of this past summer, and Dan Halutz, Udi Adam and Gal Hirsch have gone home, Winograd will presumably focus on the political echelon. It is highly unlikely that the politicos will be vindicated, as they were by the Agranat Commission. A bungle by any other name is still a bungle.

Maariv's prediction that, "It's going to be an earthquake," harks back to the expression used in the days of the Yom Kippur War, as the giants of the "1948 generation" tottered on the brink of the biggest fiasco of them all.

In the era of giants, then-minister of education Zalman Aran swore that he would follow David Ben-Gurion with his eyes closed. "But I peek every once in a while to make sure Ben-Gurion has his eyes open," he sagely added.

In the era of giants, Menachem Begin gave up all of Sinai without hemming and hawing and recognized the legitimate rights of the Palestinians in order to make peace with Egypt.

In the era of giants, Yitzhak Rabin's hand did not tremble as he signed the Oslo accords with Yasser Arafat.

So what has gone wrong? Why the loss of faith in our leadership today? The answer is simple enough: The heirs of the giants have disappointed, over and over again. The higher the pretensions of our shining political meteors, the lower they have fallen.

Benjamin Netanyahu beat Shimon Peres, one of the last remaining 1948 giants. He promised to form a government that would strive for excellence, to appoint ministers who were experts in their field, et cetera, et cetera. But he sowed the seeds of adversity and hatred, got himself involved in a slew of scandals and was beaten by Ehud Barak three years later.

These days, when Olmert is down to a mortifying 2 percent in the surveys, it is worth remembering that Bibi, even in defeat, won 43 percent of the ballot, which is close to a million and a half votes.

Barak, the Israeli army's most decorated soldier, who plays the piano and can take watches apart and put them back together, never got close to figuring out what made the political mechanism tick. With his arrogant conduct, it was a cinch for Ariel Sharon, the last of the 1948 club, to trounce him at the polls.

As someone who had done and seen it all as a warrior and a leader, Sharon took the most important historical step since the peace agreement with Egypt. He sent the dream of a greater Israel to the deep freeze. Through the disengagement, evacuating settlements in Gaza, and by embracing the Bush vision of two states, he established a new national agenda.

Olmert's ascent to power, after Sharon lapsed into a coma, was a stroke of luck. As compensation for not being awarded the finance portfolio and getting stuck with commerce and industry, Reuven Rivlin intervened on his behalf and got Sharon to sign a paper giving him the title of acting prime minister.

Olmert is considered a savvy and seasoned political activist, but as default prime minister he has not shown he is made of the stuff of leaders. He has operated on borrowed time, as Sharon's "successor." Pledging to continue Sharon's path, he said he would go beyond disengagement, to honest-to-goodness convergence.

But the second war in Lebanon sent him tumbling to the lowest level of popularity of any Israeli prime minister yet - which proves that the people are not only disappointed, but downright angry at his performance, including his cynical appointment of Amir Peretz as defense minister.

Meanwhile, the public is living off leaks, real or phony, from the Winograd investigation. Even if the committee goes easy on the political echelon, it will not come out clean in the eyes of the public. Maybe the public will push for elections and maybe it won't, but calls for the resignation of Olmert and Peretz are a distinct possibility.

One thing you can be sure of is that Netanyahu will try to scrape up 61 votes from here, there and everywhere, in the hopes of becoming prime minister without elections. There's an old Polish proverb that fits perfectly for those in favor of a Netanyahu comeback: "In the land of the blind, even a one-eyed man is a king."

In the surveys, Netanyahu is chalking up a proportional majority. But a party with all of 12 seats is not going to establish a government that will lead us anywhere, all the more so by recycling a leader who was toppled eight years ago, on the pretext that he has changed. In what way has he changed? He's not a radical right-winger anymore? He quit smoking Cohiba cigars?

If Olmert is forced to resign, Kadima, the largest party in the Knesset, can still search for someone in its ranks to put together a government without recourse to elections. Who it is, hardly matters. Just as long as it's not Bibi.