The Economic Plan / Livni's Trap

Kadima, the ruling party that polls are predicting will be ousted in February, breathed a sigh of relief yesterday: Finally, the Kadima-controlled Finance Ministry is doing something about the economic crisis.

Maybe that will halt the hemorrhage of electoral support. Maybe that will convince a frightened public that economic leadership does not exist only in the Likud.

This, in brief, is the trap in which Kadima's prime ministerial candidate, Tzipi Livni, is now caught: She is not viewed as an authority on economics, while Kadima's finance minister, Roni Bar-On, is controversial. The only Kadima member who could implement a dramatic economic move is Prime Minister Ehud Olmert - and he is Livni's enemy.

She does not want to be seen in his company, and he has no interest in helping her.

In Washington last night, Olmert announced that he, too, has a plan, which he will present to the treasury today. If it is implemented, and succeeds, he will get the credit, and he will make sure to dwarf Livni's role. If it fails, the failure will be attributed to the Kadima government as a whole - and Kadima is Livni, however hard she tries to hide it.

It is already clear that this election will revolve around the economy. In the run-up to February 10, the economic data will only get worse and the media are already dwelling on economic issues day and night. Defense is marginal, the peace process nonexistent.

In the United States, the economy liquidated John McCain's presidential bid, even though he had nothing to do with the financial collapse, and elevated Barack Obama, despite his lack of experience.

It is all a matter of image, of mass psychology.

Here in Israel, if the crisis worsens in the coming weeks voters will also seek change - and absurd though it sounds, Benjamin Netanyahu is seen as representing change.

The Labor Party is counting on Kadima's collapse and hoping to reap some of the spoils - two or three seats. Labor has some economic experts, first and foremost Prof. Avishay Braverman, and is now seeking others.

And Netanyahu, of course, has himself. He is so pleased with himself that he even has time for gimmicks: yesterday, a press conference with former basketball star Tal Brody, and today, a press conference with former entertainer Sefi Rivlin.

Both are running for places on Likud's Knesset slate. The circus has come to town.

One can only hope that Likud members, who will chose the party's slate on December 8, will not confuse Sefi Rivlin with veteran MK Reuven Rivlin.