Liquidation Sale

The noose around the prime minister is tightening. He can continue to insult the state comptroller as much as he likes, but Micha Lindenstrauss will persist.

The noose around the prime minister is tightening. He can continue to insult the state comptroller as much as he likes, but Micha Lindenstrauss will persist. The state comptroller is investigating the house on Cremieux Street and the Investments Center affair and is uncovering serious findings. If we add to this his anticipated report about the management of the home front during the war and the Winograd Committee report, we can easily grasp why Ehud Olmert is so irritable and his government so helpless. At the beginning of his term (and that was only a year ago), he radiated endless optimism and fired off proposals. He spoke about evacuating tens of thousands of settlers as part of the convergence plan and about a diplomatic solution. In the economic sphere, he spoke about reforms, structural changes and a far-reaching social revolution.

But now Olmert is deeply entrenched in the mud and totally on the defensive. He no longer puts forward initiatives; nor does he stand on principle. He does not even dream of moving a single settlement in the West Bank, legal or illegal. He only blocks, defends and aims to get through another day, another week - to survive. He knows he lacks both the political power and personal strength to chart a path, to change, to lead, to make difficult decisions. It was no coincidence that he said of himself: I am an unpopular prime minister.

In the diplomatic realm, Olmert has led us to the embarrassing situation of the Arabs' becoming the peace-seekers, while we constitute the rejectionist front. They champion a peace initiative, and we stutter and look for U.S. support to undermine it. And Olmert always has a ready stock of excuses: First return the captives, fight terror and do not mention the refugees. Then we will consider it. After all, he realizes that any negotiation with Syria or with the Palestinians means giving up territory, and he does not have the power to do this - not in the government, not in the Knesset and not among the public.

In the economic field, the atmosphere is one of a liquidation sale. Anyone who exerts a little pressure gets what he wants. There is no leadership and no resoluteness, only endless concessions. In light of the investigations of Finance Minister Avraham Hirchson, treasury officials have never looked so desperate.

The Gush Katif evacuees smell the weakness. They are now demanding a significant increase in compensation. Let there be no mistake about it: The government has demonstrated considerable generosity in granting compensation so far. It has enlarged the compensation time and again, so the disengagement budget has ballooned from NIS 5.5 billion to NIS 9 billion. But the moment the evacuees realized they were facing a weak prime minister, who flees from confrontation, they demanded more and recently received an additional NIS 500 million. Even if the goal is to maintain quiet. But quiet is not achieved, because one concession leads to a second concession - and there is no end to this.

The university students understood. They threatened a little, besmirched a bit and quickly reaped the fruits. The Shochat Committee was undermined even before it issued a report. Tuition will not be raised.

The farmers were not far behind. They pressed and the prime minister allowed them to increase the quota of foreign workers from Thailand by another 2,500 people - and not only in peripheral areas, the sweltering Arava and the distant North, but also in the Ra'anana and Herzliya areas. So everyone can benefit. From now on, we will solve the problem of unemployment in Thailand, not in Israel.

On the front of the local authorities, the evil are flourishing. The mayors who dared to withhold salaries will profit. They will receive a budget supplement, while the mayors who properly manage their localities will not receive a thing. In another few months, when the crisis breaks out again, the bad guys will profit again. Nor does the government have control in the Knesset. It was unsuccessful in blocking coalition support for a bill sponsored by Silvan Shalom to institute a negative income tax. It also failed to thwart the increase in compensation for polio victims, despite having decided on a smaller sum.

When the doctors and nurses applied pressure, Olmert canceled, without prior notice and without proper discussion, the plan to transfer the well-baby clinics [tipot halav] to the HMOs. "Anything goes" in terms of the campaign to improve popularity.

Now, the Finance Ministry is working on preparing the 2008 budget. The demands from pressure groups are pouring in. Everyone wants to take advantage of the situation and siphon off a little more. And there is no one who will stand up and put his finger in the dam.