Ehud Olmert did not resign from the premiership voluntarily. Especially now, at a time when many, like eulogizers at a funeral, tend to pity him and downplay his transgressions, one must not forget what brought him down from his perch.
Moments before Olmert resigns, President Shimon Peres finds himself in an unfamiliar position: praising the winners while comforting the losers. In his conversations with Tzipi Livni and Shaul Mofaz, Peres may perhaps have recalled his rationalization for losing the 1981 elections to Menachem Begin. Then, the Likud won 48 Knesset seats to Labor's 47 seats. The one Knesset seat that made the difference, the one that would have bestowed upon Peres the honor of forming the government, fell to Begin by a mere 400 votes. Peres claimed that those missing, egotistic voters were enjoying themselves in California on election day: They were the votes of 400 nurses - "our voters" - who preferred to be on a charter flight to an international conference in San Francisco. An entire Labor Party jumbo jet was missing, Peres complained.
That plane of Peres' became the extra half hour of voting for Shaul Mofaz. An additional 30 minutes in which Kadima voters could go to the polling booths exposed a conditional democrat - someone who was supposedly working to allow voters to fully exercise their right to vote, yet was disappointed when too many voters ultimately cast their ballots.
The crux of Mofaz's disappointment is rooted in the difference between the Kadima primary and general elections for the Knesset: For the primary, the state did not declare a national holiday. As a result, voters last week were forced to rearrange their ordinary daily activities - work, travel, taking the children to and from school - to find the time to wait in line to vote. This situation provided an advantage for the candidate who was able to rally support from blocs of voters at specific work places (and at times from two to four relatives of each employee), who could then be driven to the polls during work hours.
Limited voting hours make it harder for individuals who are not part of an organized bloc to exercise their right to vote. Without a day off from work, it would be preferable for the voting to stretch across two days, or for the public to have the option of voting early via mail.
In January 2006, when Ariel Sharon's powers were transferred to Olmert, the former mayor and finance minister was no more qualified for the job than Foreign Minister Livni is now. And the voters who made Kadima the largest Knesset list knew from the Sharon-Olmert precedent that Vice Prime Minister Livni was Olmert's heir apparent in any case, even without holding a party primary.
Ehud Barak joined the Olmert government at the height of the criminal investigations against the premier and refused to resign from his post once news of the probes reached a crescendo. His nose, which grew accustomed to the stench emanating from the prime minister's bureau during Olmert's tenure, now struggles to acclimate itself to the smell accompanying Livni. Unless, of course, this is all some roundabout trick to strengthen his position within the government. Indeed, the individual who refuses to form the "national emergency government" Barak demands is Benjamin Netanyahu, not Livni. And if Netanyahu agreed, the price would include Barak's current portfolio.
This pointless posturing, which is liable to result in a hard fall by the tightrope walkers who hatched the scheme, accentuates the urgency of not leaving exclusive control of the defense establishment in the defense minister's hands. Until the Six-Day War, the defense portfolio was almost always in the prime minister's hands. Levi Eshkol and Moshe Dayan formulated a "constitution" that codified their responsibilities in this realm. Livni needs a new arrangement of this kind that would formalize her involvement in internal defense establishment matters, including the appointment of key army officers such as the deputy chief of staff, the head of military intelligence, the regional command chiefs and even the coordinator of government activities in the territories.
In the summer of 1973, when then GOC Southern Command Sharon retired from the Israel Defense Forces and entered politics, chief of staff David Elazar explained why the army's head of personnel, Maj. Gen. Herzl Shafir, would not replace him. "Unfortunately, a war will not break out in the coming years, and Shafir is needed more at the personnel directorate, to prepare for shortening the length of compulsory service," he said. The IDF chief decided, Moshe Dayan signed off on the decision, and Golda Meir did not intervene. Shafir or Shmuel (Gorodish) Gonen - what does it matter?
With all due respect to forming a coalition, Livni is liable to discover, without the benefit of a grace period, that the composition of the current IDF General Staff is no less fateful. The country's security is too important to leave in the hands of the generals. But the generals are too important to leave in the hands of no one but the defense minister.
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