In Praise of the Zigzag

Ami Ayalon's zigzagging could provide material for an entire course in a political science department.

It isn't just that the warning letters dictated to the Winograd Committee shelved until some unforeseen date the resignation letters of the Labor Party ministers: Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's government of failure is getting an important reinforcement in the form of Labor MK Ami Ayalon. Ayalon isn't one of those retired generals or admirals who were looking for something to do with themselves and wound up in politics. He isn't another of those cynical hacks with the hide of an elephant, who couldn't resist the temptation of power, come what may. Ayalon came very close to the top of an organization that is aspiring to become the ruling party, hitchhiking on the visiting card of "Mr. Integrity." He came along to teach us that there is a "different, clean kind of politics," and has learned that there is only one kind of politics.

This is a world in which one loudly demands of one's colleagues to leave the government - and the next day meekly joins it. Anyone who doesn't like it can go play with his grandchildren.

When a person who has been elected by the public wakes up in the morning, he has to look in the mirror and ask himself what he will do today for the benefit of the public that has sent him to the legislature and is paying his salary. You don't need to be the head of the Shin Beit security service in order to discover that the lowest of those working at the Finance Ministry has more influence on the lives of the citizens of this country than an MK from the back benches of the coalition. There is a limit to the extent to which it is possible to be part of a ruling party, and at the same time speak out against the government. Ayalon could have gone the way of his friend Amram Mitzna, a general who managed to bushwhack a path for himself through the party hacks, lost his way in the corridors of the Knesset and is now employing his talents at the Yeruham Municipality.

The initiator of Hamifkad Haleumi (The People's Voice) can also go the way of his friend Meretz-Yahad MK Yossi Beilin of the Geneva Accords and join the opposition from the left. What good would that do us? Beilin's resignation from the Labor Party subtracted from the circle of decision-makers one of the most brilliant, balanced and experienced minds with respect to statesmanship that has been part of the political system in recent years. The main benefit that he is providing from the offices of his party is free advice that he hands out to the prime minister and the foreign minister, and messages that he brings them from the Palestinian Authority. Had Beilin been a member of the government last summer, it is possible that we would have been spared the wretched war in Lebanon. The same applies to Ayalon, who, shortly after the initial incident on the northern border, phoned then-defense minister Amir Peretz and urged him to think a day or two before he decided to attack.

True, Ayalon's zigzagging could provide material for an entire course in a political science department. It appears that he has not missed a single opportunity to play into the hands of his political rivals and to serve as easy prey for the commentators. If he aspires to make the best of his capacities in this arena, he needs to understand that he has used up the allotment of mistakes that are reserved for political rookies.

But Ayalon's test, like every politician's, is not the zigzag test, but rather the test of results. Zigzagging is a reprehensible habit when it is intended to serve the needs of survival and crosses the red lines that separate politics from morality, and personal interests from the general good.

Zigzagging, however, is a necessity that is not to be deplored when it advances a politician's principles and beliefs. Politics means voting in favor of a proposed law about which one spoke out against vehemently just yesterday, on the radio, in the context of a "deal" that will ensure the advancement of an initiative that one sees as important. When Ayalon decided that he would be more able as a member of the diplomatic-security cabinet to advance the agreement with the Palestinians and the evacuation-compensation law for the settlers than he would be able to in the Knesset - he had to join the government. When MK Ayalon came to the conclusion that his chairmanship of the ministerial committee on state control would contribute to the implementation of the state comptroller's reports, among them some dealing with crucial security issues (although only one out every five reports currently reaches the committee) - there was no way he could have gone home.

All this also applies to the Labor Party and its decision to resign from the government in the wake of the Winograd Committee report. If it emerges that Ehud Olmert is really and truly trying to lead a serious peace initiative, the party will have to zigzag and if necessary do cartwheels in the air to remain in the government. However, if, as Defense Minister Ehud Barak has said, "It is all hot air" - Labor should head for the nearest exit.