Did You Sleep Well?

In one basic way, our political situation is worse than that of other countries: our attitude toward the future.

It's hard to overcome a small stab of envy at the way the leadership changes in what we like to call "the most orderly of countries." This week it was Britain, which took leave of Tony Blair, a young and energetic prime minister, who in the historical record, apart from the fiasco of the Iraq war, left behind a 10-year period of splendor and vitality that ended with an unbelievable breakthrough toward conciliation in Ireland. A month ago, it was France, which catapulted into the presidency of Nicolas Sarkozy, another leader bubbling with energy and vision, whose election electrified France's political atmosphere at the advent of an optimistic era.

Of course, not everything is black and white. Those "orderly countries" are not always as orderly as one might think. On the other hand, in Israel as well, nothing has blocked the path of young, promising prime ministers who are obviously not inferior to their colleagues abroad in terms of talent, ambition and intelligence. But at the same time, in one basic way our situation is worse: our attitude toward the future.

Every so often we read reports about the surprising results of surveys showing that Israel's inhabitants are among the most optimistic in the world. However, these findings do not contradict the feeling that the concept of time in Israel − both in the street and among the leadership − is essentially a crisis. Moreover, perhaps precisely in a permanent trauma situation where the future is perceived as a succession of crises, what is construed as "optimism" is no more than a kind of existential instinct, a tool for coping with the next crisis, and mainly with the certainty that it?s definitely on the way.

Tension and fear of the unknown exist everywhere, but expectations and hope make it possible to gamble on a leadership for the long term. In Israel, where the unknown arouses mostly horror, a dynamic of trial and error has established itself concerning the leadership. It is a jumpy, impatient dynamic, which, although it gives every new leader a full 100 seconds of grace, quickly and hysterically seeks to shake him off and wax nostalgic for the known and familiar; that is, the old. One failure is enough to send us scurrying back to the leaders of yore; not because they are more successful, but because they have already been there, are experienced in failure and are a familiar landmark on the political terrain.

So it was enough to be exposed for a moment to the premierships of Benjamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak − figures who ostensibly represented renewal and hope − for us to be badly burned and scramble for shelter in the all-destructive but broad shadow of Ariel Sharon. And after a taste of Ehud Olmert's leadership, we now long for the default models of Netanyahu and Barak, and for Shimon Peres as president, who for some reason is considered the only true, young hope.

The thing is that failures, like good wine, age well in these parts. Today's failed wine vinegar needs only to wait patiently to become Chateau Mouton Rothschild and tomorrow's hope. It is no coincidence that every time a used leader is recycled, everyone is delighted to announce that "we can sleep well at night with him back again." It's like an old teddy bear that children hug just before drifting off: tattered but familiar.

The government structure certainly has a part in stabilizing the political system, but perhaps it is no coincidence that Israel has no such stable system. Maybe a long political history and existential self-confidence as exists in the West are needed for us to be sure that a new leader's appointment − with no possibility of exchanging him until his term ends − will not bring about the country's destruction, even if he turns out to be mediocre or a failure.

But in Israel we do not have the luxury of marching happily and emotionally into the unknown. Our expectations are far lower. All we want to do is "sleep well at night." To awaken to a new morning? Let's not be gluttons.