For Want of Stability

It is not by chance that Lieberman favors a presidential system in a country without a constitution, and in which the minority living in it is a candidate for expulsion from its borders.

When a fresh coat of snow covered the city of Chelm, the community elders wondered how they could preserve this pristine layer of white, which was threatened by the footprints of the beadle on his way to open the synagogue each morning. They met and agreed to build a palanquin, and engage the services of four porters to carry the beadle on his daily mission. After Israel emerged bruised from the Second Lebanon War, well-intentioned people met to find ways to prevent the recurrence of such a calamity. And then they had an epiphany, and decided to change the system of government.

The connection between the failure in Lebanon and the measure of stability of Israeli governments is like the relation between the performance of an opera singer and the route his car takes on its way to the concert hall. The war's disappointing results stemmed first and foremost from the quality of its political and military leadership, not from the electoral system or the fact that Israel is a parliamentary democracy. Those who have been interested in changing the system of government for some time, alongside naive volunteers, are hitching a ride on the frustration felt by so many with the conduct of the government and the army during the war. So is Ehud Olmert, who is desperately searching for an "agenda" to fill his term in office, following the utter collapse of the political plan for which he sought the voters' support. The cynical motives of the prime minister are particularly evident in his well-publicized initiative to bring Avigdor Lieberman into his government.

The Israeli political scene can only wonder: Is Olmert's move a mere spin, aiming to pressure the Labor party to fall into line in anticipation of the vote on the budget, or is it a real plan, whose goal is to improve his chances of surviving in power? But it does not decry the possibility put forth by the prime minister, nor does it condemn the contempt for the rules of the game that it exhibits. After all, because of his world view, Lieberman can be seen either as an oddity or an outcast. He supports the removal of 20% of the citizens of the country from its territory (by redrawing the borders); he views Arab Israelis as a fifth column, whose aim is to destroy the country; he compared Arab MKs to collaborators with Nazis and expressed the hope that they would be executed.

In the eyes of a fifth of Israel's citizens, Lieberman constitutes a tangible threat to their ability to continue living in the country, but that does not stop the prime minister from wanting him to join his government. What, in Olmert's opinion, should the Arab citizens conclude from his initiative? How does he think Arab Israelis will relate to the state once Lieberman and his party are part of its leadership? And how would such a move sit with the promises made by Olmert and his aides (most notably the director general of his office, Ra'anan Dinur), of a government that views all its citizens as equals?

In view of the circumstances Israel finds itself in following the Lebanon war, Lieberman and his ideology are not a peripheral phenomenon, but rather constitute a potential for serious change in the country. Instead of fighting against the threat, Olmert is supporting it, and is putting to the torch the banner under which he rode to power six months ago. He offered the voter a separation from most of the territories and internal conciliation, and now he is hitching his wagon to an ideology that aspires to preserve the status quo vis a vis the Palestinians, and exacerbate the division between Arabs and Jews within the Green Line.

If this is merely a spin, it is equal to ridiculing the holy of the holies, and if it is a real plan of action, it is an insolent betrayal of the public's trust. Lieberman brings with him lots of baggage: a demand for a presidential system of government, for which Olmert is promising Kadima's support. In countries with a presidential system of government, there is a constitution that sets the limits of the executive branch. Among other things, a constitution guarantees the rights of minorities. It is not by chance that Lieberman favors a presidential system in a country without a constitution, and in which the minority living in it is a candidate for expulsion from its borders. And this entire thing is justified by the need to ensure stability, which enjoys the support of many gullible persons.