Vanity Fair

A pattern of misleading the voter has taken over the shaping of Israeli politics. During periods in which Israeli citizens have faced life-or-death decisions, leaders from the right and left have treated them like fools over and over again.

One of the most important election campaigns in the history of the state took place in 1992. Just a year or so after these elections, Yitzhak Rabin, in the name of the state, promised a full withdrawal from the Golan Heights, recognized the Palestine Liberation Organization and established the Palestinian Authority.

But when Labor, headed by Rabin, went to the voters in the spring of 1992, it never mentioned the fact that it was about to take these fateful steps. The election campaign that swept Labor into power did indeed mention a scheduled implementation of the Palestinian autonomy plan, but it presented a false front according to which the main issues at stake were corruption and disrespect for the law.

In the decisive television debate with Yitzhak Shamir, Rabin clearly defined his political path - no Palestinian state, no return to the 1967 borders, and a united Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty. "I want to say, unequivocally, that I oppose a Palestinian state between ourselves and the Jordan River," Rabin said.

Speaking in the Jordan valley just two days before the ballot, the Labor candidate declared: "For at least the next five years, we will not give up a square centimeter." And in Katzrin, a day before the polls opened, Rabin promised: "Even after the signing of a peace agreement with Syria, Israel will not leave the Golan Heights."

Knowingly or not, Rabin misled the voters.

There was a dramatic campaign in 1996, as well, followed by the establishment of Benjamin Netanyahu's government, which assumed that there was no Palestinian partner and no chance for peace, and, therefore, conducted a policy of deterrence and delays intended to torpedo the Oslo accords. The Netanyahu government, in effect, froze the peace process, avoided handing over territory and did everything it could to avoid reaching a final and permanent-status agreement with the Palestinians.

But during the election campaign that carried Netanyahu to victory, the Likud candidate explicitly promised to respect international agreements and to continue the political process so as to reach a final-status deal. He made a false presentation in which he said he accepted the Oslo framework. During his campaign, he even declared that he wasn't interested in ruling another people and promised to achieve peace. The peace Netanyahu did not believe in was at the heart of his campaign "Making a secure peace."

Entirely knowingly and deliberately, Netanyahu misled the voters.

There was an even more dramatic campaign in 1999. In the 18 months that followed the 1999 elections, the Barak government agreed that the Syrians would swim in lake Kinneret, the Palestinians would get the Temple Mount and Israel would withdraw to the 1967 borders, with minor corrections.

But during the campaign that swept him to victory, Ehud Barak never bothered to ask the voters for a mandate for these far-reaching concessions. It never occurred to Barak that it would be appropriate to let the voter-citizens know about the radical political plan he had in store for them. His campaign was fraudulent from start to finish. Candidate Barak spoke about the elderly woman in the hospital corridor and brothers-together and the rule of law, without saying anything about the grandiose existential experiment he intended to conduct the day after the elections.

Knowingly, entirely knowingly, Ehud Barak misled the voters.

There's no need to waste many words on the 2001 campaign. The entertaining memory is still seared into one's consciousness: Ariel Sharon - a leader for peace.

After the first 60 dead of the intifada, and before another 600, the good grandfather on a tractor promised to lead us all to a green future, to the sweet tunes of Sharon will bring peace. Deep inside a war the severity of which the military man knew well, Sharon didn't hesitate to say only he could bring peace.

Knowingly, entirely knowingly, Sharon misled the voters.

A pattern of misleading the voter has taken over the shaping of Israeli politics. During periods in which Israeli citizens have faced life-or-death decisions, leaders from the right and left have treated them like fools over and over again. In the last four election campaigns, power was won by making false presentations that stripped the democratic process of its content and turned public life into a vanities fair. No wonder the fair is going up again, with the five candidates for the prime minister's job scattering hollow promises, and with none telling the truth and nothing but the truth, or dealing with the significance of the vague path they offer.

If Israel has a civil society, this is its hour. If the spirit of decent democracy remains in Israel, it must now break the pattern of deception that has taken over our lives.

The 2003 elections are no less important than their predecessors. The decision facing Israel immediately after the vote will be difficult and complex, perhaps existential. The decision must be made when the citizenry go to vote on January 28. They must know exactly what faces them and what they are being asked to choose between. After a decade of lies on both sides, the hour of truth has arrived. It is time for the decision about our destiny to be made together, with clear minds, wisely, and in a real democratic process.