Debate policies, not personalities

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The Knesset

The Knesset

מאמר בעברית

Much of the nihilism surrounding our government these past years is related to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s insistence that “a prime minister does not require an agenda.”

Few of us harbor the illusion that Olmert’s departure will, overnight, usher in a new era of stability and good leadership. Nevertheless the time has come to demand that politicians engaged in the current leadership campaign stop abusing and bad-mouthing one another and focus instead on policies, providing the nation with a genuine opportunity of debating the security and societal issues.

Politics remains at the lowest level it has ever been. True, at least in the short term, the trials and pending indictments of so many key politicians are likely to deter new leaders from indulging in questionable practices. But even Tzipi Livni, one of the front runners to be the next prime minister, whose principal electoral asset is that she has never been accused of indulging in corrupt practices, seems relaxed about associating politically with Tzahi Hanegbi, the former minister who to this day cannot appreciate the inappropriateness of his having won a high place in the Likud primaries by being best at providing “jobs for the boys.”

Today, more than ever, there is greater awareness of the need to overhaul the electoral system. But there is scant likelihood that structural reform which would enable the public to reward and punish politicians according to their performance will be realized any time soon. The sectoral, one-dimensional parties most threatened by such reform – in particular the haredim – are being courted by all the prime ministerial candidates and are, regrettably, likely to occupy a pivotal role in the formation of a future government.

THE MANNER in which the primaries in Kadima are playing out exemplifies everything that is rotten in our politics.

Kadima is a “virtual” party based primarily on the disastrous policies of unilateral disengagement, which its leaders would prefer to forget. Nobody is able to define what the party represents because most of the Kadima MKs defected from other parties – not out of ideological motivation but simply to enhance their personal ambitions. Genuine political discussions are rarely expressed. Instead we are continuously subjected to ongoing personality conflicts and attempts by candidates to demolish the characters of their opponents.

On the rare occasions when policies do intrude, they are often manifested in an extremely primitive and even harmful manner – as when Shaul Mofaz got on the soapbox and, to promote his credentials as a hard-liner, irresponsibly called for all-out war with Iran.

Livni, the frontrunner for the Kadima leadership, assures us that she would make the ideal prime minister. But beyond pontificating about Kadima being a moderate centrist party purporting to reflect the views of the bulk of Israelis, she still declines to provide the nation with a report on the negotiations she has been conducting behind closed doors with the Palestinians. Nor is she even willing to enlighten her own party members about what she proposes to concede to the Palestinians in the “shelf agreement.”

Livni has also failed to provide any indication of to how she intends to deal with the Hamas or Hizbullah threats. In fact, all the signals suggest that she lacks any kind of long-term strategic plan and would simply continue responding to situations as they arise.

Labor Party leader Ehud Barak, whose political standing has plummeted over the past weeks, has released a wide range of contradictory security policies alternating between dovish and hawkish and guaranteeing that nobody knows what he really thinks. This gives him the opportunity to zigzag according to his perception of the opinion polls. His only consistent theme has been the personal demonization of all his political opponents.

THE OPPOSITION has until now also failed to have a major impact on policy debates. Binyamin Netanyahu is aware that he faces an overwhelmingly hostile and heavily biased media undoubtedly poised to launch yet another hysterical “anyone but Bibi” campaign. His advisers appear to have convinced him to maintain a relatively low profile and avoid providing the press with any pretext to demonize him.

But the time has now surely arrived for him to emerge, outline his policy platform and establish the framework for a genuine national policy debate.

Unlike all the other aspirants to the premiership, Netanyahu does have a genuinely coherent strategic outlook relating to the Palestinian Authority, Gaza, Lebanon, Syria and the Iranian threat. By outlining his policies and simultaneously resisting efforts by his opponents to drag him into mudslinging matches, he could ensure that, for the first time in 20 years, we will have an election in which the core issues facing the nation are debated.

Nor should Netanyahu limit himself to security issues, which are understandably the main preoccupation of the nation. He must also aggressively promote his platform on other areas such as the fragile economy, education, water and the various long-term infrastructure issues that have been neglected by politicians concerned only about immediate problems.

If Netanyahu succeeds in reviving the first serious national political debate about our future since the Oslo Accords, he will have made an important contribution to the well-being of the nation, and probably also advanced himself to the premiership.

This article can also be seen at the Jerusalem Post website

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