Thursday, May 03, 2007

The Black Prince

A program provided by Answers.Com pops up when the computer starts up, if you’ve selected that as an option. It’s a cute little information provider. The program is broken up into three tabs. The first is a lead tidbit, the second is On This Day, or something like that, listing famous people who were born on that day, and the third is In The News, a short selection of unusual news events.

May 3, 2007’s Answers.Com’s lead section was on Niccolo Machiavelli, born on May 3, 1469, in Florence, Italy. Machiavelli was the diplomat and political advisor who wrote The Black Prince. Machiavelli thought that a politician must be ruthless, and filled to the brim with self-interest.

While reading this little ditty the parallels to Israel’s Prime Minister Olmert come to mind. As a cunning politician he has no equal, unless it is his vice-Prime Minister Shimon Peres.

The failed palace revolt staged yesterday by Israel’s Foreign Minister Tzippi Livni was not fully explained in the press. One of Livni’s advisors told her that a majority of the Kadima party would side with her if she called for PM Olmert’s resignation, appointing her to replace him. She indeed called for Olmert to resign, but the majority of Kadima party members who were to support her evaporated.

One of Israel Radio’s Reshet bet commentators said, “The rats decided to stay on the ship.”

Somehow Prime Minister Olmert, the consummate politician, managed to get to the Kadima members and convince them not to support a call for his resignation. Rather, Minister of Security Avi Dichter came out with a statement supporting Olmert. So did Minister without Portfolio Meir Shitrit.

Foreign Minister Livni was forced to show suitable remorse. Olmert said he wouldn’t call for her resignation at this time.

The media had a field day, shifting their focus from Olmert and the Winograd Commission’s harsh criticism of him, Defense Minister Peretz, and ex-Chief of Staff Halutz, to Livni. She was hung out to dry.

Opposition spokespersons joined in the mêlée. The Likud Party’s former Foreign Minister Shalom Sivan asked, during a radio interview, how Livni could continue in the government, representing Israel to the world when she didn’t have faith in the Prime Minister who was running the country.

Likud Party leader Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu laid into PM Olmert on the podium of the Knesset today. As expected Netanyahu called on Olmert to resign. He said that the country should go to the polls to elect a new leader.

Netanyahu thought it strange that Olmert would consider staying on to “implement suggestions of the Winograd Commission,” when the Winograd commission found that Olmert was the one responsible for the snafu in the first place.

But the “street” in Israel is in no hurry to see Olmert leave his keys on the Prime Minister’s desk, and go home for good. “What? You’d rather have Barak? Netanyahu?” an old timer told an Israel Television Channel 10 reporter through the window of a bus during the unreliable but popular man-in-the-street interviews.

The freakiness of the Prime Minister staying in office after the lambasting he took in the Winograd Commission has become the focus of much discussion in Israel. One pundit claimed that while some of Olmert’s opponents were watching the popularity polls, which showed Olmert with between a 0 per cent to 3 per cent rating, Olmert was busy cementing his support in Kadima to withstand the attempt by Tzippi Livni to get his job.
Sure enough, even though no one wants Olmert to stay in the job he managed to persuade enough people in his party to support him over Livni.

Military analysts have said that Olmert should not be in a position to lead Israel in the event of another war. The analysts say that with Syria amassing troops on the northern border, conducting war games on a scale that hasn’t been seen since 1973 on the eve of the Yom Kippur War, Olmert poses a great risk to Israel.

But he doesn’t agree, or seem to care. He has weathered the storm of this attempt to unseat him. He plans to remain in power for at least a few more months. Knowing the way Olmert skillfully handles his own supporters, and seems to neutralize his opponents with great aplomb; one can even imagine a scenario where Olmert is in power until the end of his term in Jan 2010. After all, no one seems capable of outsmarting him.

But like Shimon Peres, the 83-year old elder statesman, who could pull political rabbits out of all sorts of hats, so much so that hardly anyone in Israel really trusted him since no one ever knew what he was really up to, Olmert seems to have sat at Peres’ feet long enough to learn a number of lessons in political survival.

The big question is, though, if Olmert’s survival and the survival of Israel are one in the same? What seems increasingly clear is that Olmert can survive Israel, but it is not as clear that Israel can survive Olmert.

Saul Olinsky, a great labor organizer during the 1930’s in Chicago once said that the essence of any choice is in its alternatives.

The problem in Israel today is that none of the alternatives to Olmert seem that much better. Netanyahu is the guy people love to hate, and Ehud Barak of the goofy smile has yet to prove he can do a better job next time he is Prime Minister than he did the last time.

Most of all, with the culture of corruption, patronage, arrogance, and ruling class versus the unwashed masses mentality, no one has really stepped up to offer a solution to the problems endemic in Israeli politics. Problems that have pretty much become so imbedded in the culture that they are hard to get out. The unfortunate analogy is a Cancer cell that is replicating. The tendrils so intertwined in the healthy cells that even surgery isn’t feasible.

Israel is one of the leaders in finding cures for various types of cancer. Perhaps some genius will find a way to cure this strain as well.