Plague Rats, Boils, and “Gigli”

…are all things with higher approval ratings than Ehud Olmert. It is quite clear from the upcoming Winograd report on the war with Hizballah that the Olmert government deserves it’s utter lack of support. The war was horrendously mismanaged, and Olmert went to war with an army and a country that was woefully unprepared for what they were facing. While Israel was fortunately enough to have a qualified victory — they did hurt Hizballah — they never reached their goals of destroying Hizballah nor did they return their lost soldiers. The best that can be said about the Israeli incursion into Lebanon is that they didn’t completely lose.

Olmert deserves to resign. The only way he was able to salvage his government was by cozying up to the ultra-nationalist Avigdor Lieberman of the Y’Israel Beitanu Party, and even he would be deeply unwise to cling to that particular sinking ship. There’s no doubt that the Knesset will make a vote of no confidence that will probably lead to the ouster of Olmert and the accession of Tzipi Livni as Prime Minister. If she can’t hold the Kadima coalition together, than Binyamin Netanyahu will try to form a new government. Should he fail, then new elections will be called.

My guess is that this signals the end of Kadima. Without the leadership of Ariel Sharon, Kadima has itself been on life support. Sadly, neither are likely to recover. Parties based on the personal appeal of a single candidate rarely last in any democracy, and Kadima is no exception to that rule. It seems likely that in the wake of Israel’s perceived defeat in Lebanon, a hardliner like Netanyahu has enough political advantage to take power, although that is certainly not a given. Tzipi Livni has a chance to hold Kadima together, but despite her considerable skill, the disintegration of Kadima may be too much for anyone to handle.

The problem is that Netanyahu, while a smart man and an adept politician, will also be likely to be much more of a hardliner than Sharon was towards the end. The disengagement plan is the only way to ensure Israel’s security. Israel cannot fight off an attack by its enemies if its forces are spread thin trying to protect settlements. The disengagement from Gaza was a human tragedy, but it was a necessary one to preserve the security of the Israeli state. Netanyahu’s opposition is understandable, but ultimately wrong for Israel. Israel needs strength, to be sure, but it has to choose which battles are worth fighting.

The tragic incapacitation of Ariel Sharon has left Israeli politics in a state of flux. Sharon’s transformation from hardliner to pragmatist came at the right time. Sharon would not have fought the war in Lebanon more intelligently — or perhaps not at all. The inept leadership of Olmert and especially his Defense Minister Amir Peretz (which was a poor choice to begin with) led to an aimless war that alienated Israel’s potential allies in Lebanon and emboldened rather than dissuaded Iranian and Syrian ambitions in the region.

Olmert is promising to stay on — but his political career is over. The bigger question now is how Israeli politics will realign itself and whether Kadima will live in on some form or splinter into a host of minor parties. Neither Kadima nor Sharon seem likely to be coming back any time soon, and Israeli politics once again is in a state of uncertainty.