The Princess and Ivan the Terrible

This is not the title of a children's book but one that sums up the situation today, as we head for the 18th Knesset elections on Tuesday. On the one hand, we are facing colossal defense, economic and social problems, and on the other, a political rift. No matter what government comes to power, it will be led by a prime minister who has won by the tiniest of margins and a defense minister who doesn't understand how he it that he did not wind up back in the prime minister's seat, considering what a genius he is.

This government will also have a coalition partner who will kick himself at the thought that an inexperienced princess has beat him, by a mere hairsbreadth, and all the while Avigdor Lieberman will be hovering in the background, spewing venom and threatening to turn Israel into a binational state.

And then the question will arise of whether this government is capable of handling the challenges posed by Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Will it have the power to carry out withdrawals and evacuate tens of thousands of settlers? With all the hot air and hatemongering at home, all we have done is confuse ourselves to death. With less than a week to go before the elections, the vote is totally splintered and everyone is at each other's throat.

The Likud is attacking Kadima and Labor, but wants Ehud Barak for defense minister without Labor. Benjamin (Bibi) Netanyahu is dreaming of a world without Kadima.

Barak himself is dying to be prime minister, and out of frustration is attacking Tzipi Livni as unsuitable for the job.

And let's not forget that he was the one who threw the wrench into the works when Livni tried to form a new coalition and avoid going to the polls, with his batty demands to be acting prime minister and have the Knesset pass a law that the head of the opposition doesn't have to be a Knesset member. With the delay Barak caused with his bizarre requests, he pushed Shas into clamoring for money and issuing ultimatums over Jerusalem.

Many people complain that Livni didn't make proper use of the 10 days left to her to put together a government, so it was her fault we had to go to early elections.

In my opinion, Livni only proved her worth: She showed us that she is a determined and principled politician, not a political hack and horsetrader.

Livni is not a backslapper or a sweet-talker. She is serious about her missions - the ones she took on herself or those Olmert doled out to her with intentional stinginess, so she wouldn't hog too much of the limelight. She did not complain, but rather carried out her duties with skill and dedication.

If some secret "jury" has popped up a few minutes before Election Day and decided to lop off her head through the auspices of my colleague Ari Shavit ("A Cautionary Note," Haaretz, February 2), I tip my hat to her. These guys are scared. Two macho men, otherwise known as Netanyahu and Barak, who both failed as prime minister, don't want to see her being elected and becoming their boss. What they have to say about her does not appear under their name in this verdict.

Now, about this person who was "especially agitated despite being a mature, restrained and conservative man," and told Shavit he felt like "a member of some cult with a terrible secret: Tzipi Livni is not fit to be prime minister" - what I want to know is why he and the others kept their mouths shut until a week before the elections. What are they afraid of? That little Tzipi the weakling will have them executed?

The outcome of these elections must be the establishment of a different kind of government. The last three years will be remembered as a grim era in Israeli political history. Since the Netanyahu administration, no prime minister has gone through office without a police investigation. A former finance minister is on trial. A senior minister was found guilty of an indecent act and did not appeal.

And we haven't even gotten yet to the bungled Second Lebanon War, or to Operation Cast Lead, for which Israeli ministers and generals may face indictment for crimes against humanity, and which may have put an end to terror, but then again, maybe did not.

Kadima, when Ariel Sharon established it, was an innovative party with a fresh new outlook and hope for the future, based on the idea of two states for two peoples. A few days before the 2001 elections, a well-known columnist wrote why Israel must not let Sharon become prime minister. His arguments were convincing. Next thing we knew, he was Sharon's great defender, hailing him as the best thing that ever happened to us.

Tzipi Livni is not Sharon, but she wrote the party platform at his ranch, and was his loyal helpmate all along. When she won the Kadima party nomination for prime minister, the public greeted her victory with approval and optimism.

To her credit, let it be said that long before Lieberman popped up with his demands to take away the citizenship of a million and a half Israeli Arabs, and Netanyahu tried to rebrand the Likud as a centrist party, Livni supported the establishment of a unity government with Likud and Labor on the grounds that "the left isn't so left anymore and the right isn't so right."

A 20-percent abstention equals dozens of seats, which could neutralize Liebermanism. Tzipi and Netanyahu would do well to join forces in a new government that will tackle both the problems of peace and the demon that is turning the country into a bastion of apartheid.

Lieberman, like Kahane, must remain outside.