Packing It in

This is how the government of the State of Israel looks in June 2008: The defense minister is accusing the prime minister of resorting to electoral considerations that are preventing a period of calm; the prime minister returns the allegation; the foreign minister remains silent, since she's above all that, but in off-the-record conversation she's reportedly says the government lacks a moral mandate; the vice premier crowns the calm on which the cabinet has decided as "a victory for the Iranian axis"; and the infrastructure minister avers outright that the government "is not functioning."

All this was stated, broadcast or written in the space of the 48 hours that separated Friday morning from Sunday morning. The military jargon for this behavior in "NGS," an acronym for "Near Graduation Syndrome," when discipline among army course trainees gradually slips as reassignment looms closer.

When Israel's most senior ministers vie to better each other in eulogizing, slandering and ridiculing one another and their government - which is also ours, then it's probably a good a time as any to pack it in, and bring down the stall. And that's how our government looks, unfortunately. Like a market stall. Instead of addressing the serious national issues on its plate - Syria, Hamas, the abducted soldiers - the ministers are wallowing in politics.

Ehud Olmert burst into the cabinet's meeting room yesterday like an Indian elephant escaping from the Biblical Zoo. He furiously pounded his gavel against its small wooden disc, and, according to an eye witness, only the slightest stimulation was needed to prompt him to use it to tomahawk the person sitting opposite him - Ehud Barak.

Olmert is a cool and deliberate politician. He didn't have to lay into Barak as his vice premier, Haim Ramon, had done the previous night with characteristic flare and enthusiasm. His immediate interest is to temper the flames vis-a-vis Labor, to try and pacify and sooth. After all, Labor holds the stool on which Olmert is propped with a rope around his neck. If Olmert chose to fan the flames, then he did so out of cool political considerations.

If he is forced to rumble with Barak, then he prefers it to be over a "national" issue such as the fate of the proposed agreement with Hamas for a truce in the Gaza Strip. That's preferable to a legal issue, with overtones of corruption

And Olmert has another reason to heat things up. It's all right by him if the quarrel with Barak turns into a shouting match between Kadima and Labor. That way he is able to corral the members of his own party behind him. Their voters would catch them with serious amounts of egg running down their faces if they favored Barak's side.