In one of the coming days, free from the hassles of the budget and the referendum, attorney Yisrael Maimon will be able to find time for a renewed effort to sum up the subject that has preoccupied him for the last few months: creating a framework for coordinating the state's information efforts.
On Cabinet Secretary Maimon's agenda is another conversation with Foreign Ministry Director General Ron Prosor. Getting the Foreign Ministry's agreement was - and always had been - the highest hurdle to overcome on the way to forming a framework for the state's propaganda, which is aimed mostly at the foreign press. Discipline can be imposed on the IDF spokesman's office, which is subordinate to the chief of staff, and the defense minister's media advisor can be brought into line, since Shaul Mofaz is the prime minister's prime political loyalist.
It is much more difficult to persuade the foreign minister that his estate, his prestige and TV time will not be harmed if the real center of media power is located far from his control, and in the prime minister's office to boot.
Maimon, Prosor, and others at the level of officials and their assistants tried to step up the pace of forming the coordinating framework, bringing it to the finish line - but not across it. The need for it has been clear to all since September 2000, has been analyzed in a State Comptroller's report and is worrying the government establishment as the evacuation of Gaza and the northern West Bank approaches. But the political difficulties are unbearable. Ministers - elected officials who aren't necessarily supporters of Ariel Sharon and the disengagement - will say what they want and ignore the wishes of Sharon and his people that they be self-disciplined. If money is described as the "mother's milk of politics," its oxygen is appearances on TV. Limiting politicians' TV appearances is a threat to strangle them.
The chronicles of the Israeli government are full of failed attempts to create propaganda systems. After the Yom Kippur War, then-minister Aharon Yariv learned personally that intimacy with Yitzhak Rabin, a reputation as a Military Intelligence chief, a sober analyst and TV personality during the Yom Kippur War, and a successful negotiator at Kilometer 101 did not enable him to slip in between the tension among Rabin, defense minister Shimon Peres, and foreign minister Yigal Allon.
Menachem Begin wanted to appoint Shmuel Katz as his explainer of Israel to the world, but was blocked by foreign minister Moshe Dayan, which was lucky for Begin, because very quickly the peace process with Egypt took over the agenda, and Katz was one of its most vocal opponents.
In October 2000, when Ehud Barak ran into trouble with the public as the fighting with the Palestinians intensified - yet he continued negotiating with Yasser Arafat - Barak called Nahman Shai, the director general of the Ministry of Science, Culture and Sport, and in the middle of the night drafted him as a super-spokesman. Shai accepted the appointment, and discovered that beneath the super-spokesman and on his flanks there were contradictory messages being issued by many independent spokesmen, including Barak himself.
Barak's loss to Sharon did not change the fundamental situation. Proof of that can be seen in the preparations for Bush's war against Saddam, in the ruckus that accompanied the appointment of Maj. Gen. Amos Gilad as the uniformed "national explainer" and the panicky and wasteful behavior of the Sharon-Mofaz government.
Gilad's failure did not deter Maimon, and he, too, in the current round of upgrading the public face of the Sharon government, is focusing on the search for an articulate military man comfortable with strategic analysis, but this time a retiree.
The courting has so far been only partially reciprocated. The person Maimon wants is interested in an open engagement, not a shackled marriage, and a definition of the task that involves taking part in the shaping of policy, with the presentation to the public part of the job but not its core.
The evacuation will be conducted on TV no less than on the ground, because the opponents will want to use the sights and sounds to undermine support for Sharon inside the Likud. In Sharon's office they are right to identify the media as the main arena of the campaign, but that diagnosis will only slightly help the treatment of the problem. Even if a propaganda rampart is built that somehow satisfies Silvan Shalom, the cameras will seek out Benjamin Netanyahu and the Hilltop Youth.
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