Fools in the Driver's Seat

If we were dealing with a seasoned and cunning prime minister like Ariel Sharon, we might have thought that the grotesque appointment of Avigdor Lieberman as foreign minister was a brilliant and sophisticated move designed to position the man as the government's lightning rod, the person who makes the prime minister seem like a glowing light of responsibility and moderation. But since we are talking about Benjamin Netanyahu, a politician who is nothing more than the sum of all his suspicions, fears and efforts to be liked by everyone, it was probably luck or intuition rather than intelligent planning.

Because that has been one of Netanyahu's traits from way back: to refrain from an unpleasant tete-a-tete, especially the kind that photographs poorly. Just as during his previous term he made sure to keep his distance from the sites of terror attacks (he would swoop down on them when he was in the opposition), the prime minister is now hiding behind Lieberman in his unavoidable conflict with the world, just as he is hiding behind Defense Minister Ehud Barak in his equally unavoidable conflict with the settlers.

We have to recall this when we observe the daily burlesque show being performed for us by the huge super-troupe, which numbers dozens of cabinet members and various and sundry deputies. These include this week's Monty Python-like performance by Deputy Minister Danny Ayalon in front of the Turkish ambassador, to the circus tricks of his master Lieberman, the sledgehammer from Kishinev, who every week goes to battle with a different country. They also include the attempts by the Shas ministers and their deputies to pickpocket public funds and cushy political jobs with a juggling act a la Harpo Marx.

When we watch this production we must remember that someone bears responsibility for it: Behind Ayalon stands Lieberman and behind Lieberman - as behind every government minister - stands Netanyahu. His apologetic "national dignity" and crumbling machoism are the commander's spirit spreading through the troops. Although he is careful to keep quiet and hide behind the scenes, we should recall that he is the casting director, playwright, director and producer of this spectacle.

In other words: That's how the "Bibi Show" looks the second time around, too. If it contains any lessons compared to its predecessor, they are limited for now to on-stage nuances such as breathing, pauses and timing. Are these enough to prevent the fiasco awaiting at the exit this time, too?

If there is any minor consolation in this entire spectacle, it's Israel's truly marvelous strength and talent for survival even amid the worst uncertainties, blows and pranks by generations of cynical prime ministers, incompetent foreign ministers and brutal defense ministers. One after another they fight Israel in the arena, and Israel is still standing.

Indeed, why only see the glass as half empty? Yes, we can count each of the weekly "diplomatic" quarrels, the number of countries that within a year have switched from being friends to enemies, the deep-freeze temperatures of our relations with our neighbors, the overall index of hatred for Israel. But why not console ourselves with the very fact that the country - somehow, almost miraculously - still survives? That even though irresponsible adolescents have taken dad's car out on the weekend, played terrible games with it and caused accidents - and without insurance yet - somehow it is not yet a total loss? In fact, a public relations campaign is currently underway against drunk driving by young people who don't make sure to appoint a sober person to drive them home. Fortunately for us, that role is traditionally filled in our politics by Shimon Peres, the "fixer" for generations of Israeli governments. Whether as president, foreign minister or simply a member of the Socialist International, he's the one who takes care to pick up the pieces, make phone calls, conciliate, smooth things out, speak to the insurance company and take the damaged car to the parking lot. That's what he did this week, too, in the crisis with Turkey. But for how long? After all, the man turns 87 this August. Is there really no responsible adult left except him?