Max and Moritz, the Terrible Twosome

There are countries in which the democratic process unfolds matter-of-factly, dryly. In Israel, things work differently.

There are countries in which the democratic process unfolds matter-of-factly, dryly: Elections are held, the ballot boxes are closed, the votes are tallied, winners and losers are declared, and the former rejoice for some time before girding for the burden of responsibility. The latter are crestfallen, but bow their heads before the will of the voter, clear their belongings out of their offices and begin the search for a different future, perhaps until next time.

In Israel, things work differently. Here, the real action begins after the ballot boxes are closed. The announcement of the final results is the opening salvo in a long, tortuous - and even exultant - process of trumping the will of the voters. "The will of the voter" is viewed as a nonbinding recommendation and moreso as a challenge that requires a fitting solution. The politicians pounce on the election results like scrap-iron merchants on stolen cars in junkyards. The Honda's interior and suspension may be marred beyond recognition, but whoever manages to sell most of its parts to steel dealers, and use whatever is left to built a korkinet scooter, will be the winner.

This is not a game for the faint-hearted, the modest or the righteous. There is a reason why most of the "principled" people who are somehow prodded into declaring their candidacy for leadership positions are rejected outright, with scorn and mockery (or remove themselves from consideration at the outset): They lack the "killer instinct," that impulsive, unbridled, unpredictable and aggressive character without which you have no business vying for the leadership of a New Jersey crime syndicate, let alone the government of Israel.

We want our leaders to be tactical, combative, cunning, deceptive, inconsistent, vague. We want to swoon over their ability to lie to our faces while looking us straight in the eye, thereby proving their ability to lie to our enemies and to the world. Who needs principles, which invariably become muddled anyway? We want our leaders to be tacticians, not strategists; we want them brutal and tricky, even at our own expense. We want to love to hate them, to swoon at their failures, even if we end up paying the price.

These are some of the reasons why - after having already been burned, after having choked, tripped and nearly drowned in the mud of their hair-raising failures - we are now getting Benjamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak at the country's helm for a second time. And this time, as if to double the impact, as a team, the Max and Moritz of Israeli politics.

We are repeatedly told that our Udi and Bibi, as opposed to Wilhelm Busch's protagonists, "have changed and matured." Yet the "change," which is accompanied by an uneasy wink, is in and of itself one of their usual tricks. Just this week, we saw how Ehud Barak "changed" - the man whose middle name is "brutality"; the man who physically shoved Yasser Arafat at Camp David and repulsed talks with the Palestinians and the Syrians; the man who grabbed the microphone by force at a Labor Party Central Committee meeting before taking control of the party and dragging it almost violently into the government; the man who, in contrast to all the expectations that he would at least demonstrate sophistication on the military level, led us into one of the clumsiest, most brutal wars we have ever known, a war whose political, moral and international price it is too soon to assess. He has changed?

And as for Benjamin Netanyahu, hints of his failed metamorphosis were already evident in the way he conducted himself while trying to form a government, with all the panic, hysteria and capitulation to pressure - the same traits he always had. If the "Bibi" within him has yet to emerge in full force, it is because he has yet to get his feet firmly planted in the halls of power. Wait, just wait.

But one thing is clear. As of next week, Israel will be led by the only people in the state who really, really wanted to lead it, and fought for that end with a "killer" obsession after everyone else had already been deterred, left behind, or simply did not unreservedly crave it. So they deserve it. And it seems, woe is us, that we deserve it too.

"Whoever has not yet heard to this day of Max and Moritz, the terrible twosome" - that is how the tale of the duo's mischief (in Uri Sela's translation into Hebrew from the original German) begins. It is said of our Udi and Bibi that "they will surprise us" and bring us to the strawberry fields of peace, security and international support (together with that moral authority, Avigdor Lieberman). How odd: Israel may be the only country in the world in which leaders are elected in the hope that "they will surprise us" rather than behaving as their characters and their dismal records would have us expect. But how long can this go on? Don't we deserve better than this?