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In a dramatic surprise announcement, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert announced this evening that he would not run in the Kadima party primaries, and therefore will no longer be Prime Minister at the end of September. Olmert's decision was due to pressures arising from allegations of financial irregularities in the conduct of his campaign and while he was mayor of Jerusalem.

There is no doubt that Olmert's announcement reflects, in a way, the workings of democracy, since he has had near single digit popularity ratings since the Second Lebanon war. It is up to the courts to decide whether or not he is guilty of financial misconduct.

Olmert's was a classic speech of the type that the democratic world has come to know, along the lines of "I did not have sex with that woman," "I am not a crook," and "You won't have Nixon to kick around any more." At the moment that Ehud Olmert was lauding his government's progress in reducing unemployment, the TV news ticker was announcing that the trend had reversed, and that unemployment was rising. Though Olmert patted himself on the back for raising pension benefits, the pensioners' association announced that it was preparing to "strike" in protest over failure to raise pension benefits, and Holocaust survivors never did get the promised increase in benefits either.

The Olmert government's many failures and successes will only be assessed accurately in retrospect. The Second Lebanon War, the demeaning prisoner exchange with Hezbollah and most likely the truce with Hamas will be counted as unmitigated failures, though not all the blame can be laid at the door of the government. The Israeli right will lament the government's announced willingness to sign an agreement with the Palestinian authority, while the left will no doubt lament the lack of any real progress toward such an agreement.

On the plus side, the Olmert government has lead Israel during a period of unprecedented prosperity and economic growth. This may be only a matter of luck, but some types of luck are created. The complex foreign policy which angers both left and right seems to be based on a few realistic judgments that may be unpleasant but realistic:

Hamas, and not the Palestinian Authority, represent the future of the Palestinians, and there is nothing to be done about that.

Israel must negotiate with the Palestinian Authority in order to please the United States.

Given the lack of a realistic and strong Palestinian peace partner, the future of Jerusalem and the West Bank settlements will be determined in the long run by Israeli settlement there.

The Lebanese government was probably never viable, and certainly was no longer viable after the Second Lebanon war, and the withdrawal of real French and American support. The United States will be folding its tents in the Middle East following the Iraq war, and the Sarkozy government is no longer interested in intervening against Syria. Therefore, the most realistic course is to an attempt to find an independent diplomatic solution with Syria.

Perspective may give us more wisdom to judge whether these policies were correct.

The current government is, as of now, a lame duck government, awaiting the replacement of the Prime Minister. There is no guarantee that the change in the head of Kadima will necessarily lead to new elections. On the contrary, both the Labor party and the Pensioner's party stand to lose from new elections. The latter, which did nothing for its constituents, will disappear from the political scene if opinion polls are accurate.

More important than political quibbles is the question of whether or not Israel can recover the sense of vision and purpose that animated our society in the past, and whether the next government can restore the confidence of the people that their leaders really are doing what is best for the country. Both of these have been lacking from Israeli society and political life for quite a long time, a malaise that seems to have affected most of the Western democracies.

Ami Isseroff





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