It is not merely that our prime minister is a failed leader, repeating the same flawed policies which led to our recent self-inflicted disasters. His dysfunctional ministers, content to remain ignorant of the concessions being offered to the Palestinians with life and death implications for us all, are equally blameworthy. In addition, they suffer from a malady commonly described as “flapping gums,” an uncontrollable urge to conduct their private political theater via statements and leaks to the media.
Instead of working in unison, they condemn the policies of their government, criticize ministerial colleagues, and frequently even contradict their own statements. No democratic government in the world has ministers behaving in such an undisciplined and irresponsible manner.
Of course, the problem is the prime minister’s weakness and his lack of any coherent policy beyond struggling to retain power. He conducts sham negotiations with a corrupt and impotent Palestinian clique who publicly deny our right to exist as a Jewish state, threaten to revert to armed struggle, and retain militias which continue launching murderous acts of terror against our civilians.
The contradictory statements made in relation to the stillborn cease-fire with Hamas exemplified the chaos. Initially both Prime Minister Olmert and Defense Minister Ehud Barak adamantly denied even indirect negotiations concerning a cease-fire with Hamas. As rumors of American-inspired Egyptian mediation surfaced, Olmert suddenly hinted at the possibility of a de-facto truce. The IDF, which strongly opposed a truce on security grounds, was instructed to cease offensive actions against Hamas for a week. Yet Barak vigorously denied the existence of a cease-fire to visiting US presidential candidate Senator John McCain. The following week, under pressure from Condoleezza Rice, and despite undisguised resistance from the IDF, Barak backtracked on easing border control crossings, dismantling roadblocks and checkpoints and providing weapons to Palestinian.
Similar zig-zags and daily policy changes were made in relation to Syria. One day Olmert would announce that negotiations were inappropriate because of the behavior of the Syrians. The next day he would proclaim the opposite. Combined with subsequent suggestions of an impending war, these contradictory statements left Israelis utterly confused.
What eventuated in the wake of the Mercaz Harav Yeshiva massacre also reflected total chaos. Traumatized Israelis were shocked to learn that the parents of the mass murderer had set up a public mourning tent bedecked with Hamas flags in east Jerusalem. Ultimately the Hamas flags were forcibly removed, but unlike the Jordanians who prohibited relatives in Amman from setting up a public mourning exhibition, Interior Minister Avi Dichter saw no reason to deny the family of the killer the right to do so in Jerusalem. Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik protested, demanding, unsuccessfully, that the tent be dismantled.
Despite discreet suggestions not to visit the yeshiva, Education Minister Yuli Tamir insisted on paying a personal condolence call. She was treated with the utmost respect by the rabbis, but upon leaving, was accosted outside by a group of youngsters (not necessarily associated with Mercaz Harav) who shouted epithets at her. Hooliganism is unacceptable and should be prosecuted. But it was also insensitive for a founding member of Peace Now to foist herself on the ideological power house of the settlement movement during such a traumatic time.
For Tamir, this episode was ideological manna. Despite her awareness that the rabbis had strongly condemned the abuse and reiterated the need for students to display respect to representatives of the state, she rushed to the TV cameras to express her shock and outrage. She misrepresented Mercaz Harav Yeshiva as an extremist undemocratic institution, suggested dark parallels with the murder of Yitzhak Rabin, and hinted that government funding for Mercaz Harav could be at risk.
Tamir was backed by National Infrastructure Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, who warned, “We’d seen such things before when Rabin was murdered and apparently they have not learned the lesson…. Their incitement may lead to another political murder.” A few weeks earlier in New York, Ben Eliezer had called for the release of the convict, Marwan Barghouti, he described as the only Palestinian “leader” capable of making peace with Israel.
To crown this madness, the only Arab government member, Science, Culture and Sport Minister Ghaleb Majadele, responded to the decision to hold one minute’s silence at football matches for the murdered students by calling for a matching commemoration for Palestinians killed by IDF actions in Gaza.
Contradictory statements concerning the future of Jerusalem also reflected ministerial chaos. Deputy Premier Haim Ramon initially announced that Jerusalem would be divided, even implying that jurisdiction of the Temple Mount would be handed over to the Palestinians. After humming and hawing, Olmert conceded that a division was indeed being contemplated. However after Interior Minister Eli Yishai responded by threatening to withdraw Shas from the government, the prime minister agreed to defer discussions on Jerusalem. However, Mahmoud Abbas reiterated that Jerusalem was in fact being negotiated – which was confirmed by Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni. To add further confusion, Minister for Pensioners Affairs Rafi Eitan, in total disregard of the negotiations, publicly announced that Jerusalem would remain united forever.
In an effort to divert pressure from his constituency to leave the government, Yishai announced that in response to demands from his party, Olmert would approve new housing within the settlement blocs. He was promptly contradicted in New York by Livni, who also condemned her government’s decision to build in Givat Zeev and warned of an impending collision with the Americans. Yishai’s predictions were ratified when Olmert once again contradicted himself and approved the additional housing.
Then we were subjected to Barak’s bizarre proclamation that prior to future military responses to Hamas, approval would be obtained from the Supreme Court.
There were other outbursts. While the prime minister and foreign minister were urging the world not to deal with Hamas, Minister without Portfolio Ami Ayalon publicly called on Israel to deal directly with Hamas. And while Hamas and the PA were endeavoring to restore their partnership, Livni continued holding secret negotiations with the Palestinians. Yet that did not inhibit Dichter from stating that “the talks with the Palestinians about Gaza are in a state of brain death” and vowing that he would not endorse any agreement with the Palestinians in which implementation would be delegated to the next US administration. The next day the infrastructure minister reiterated his mantra that “only the release of Barghouti” could salvage the “not actual” talks.
The madness climaxed when Prime Minister Olmert recently told Ashkelon residents to adjust themselves to having “red alerts” for a long time. At the same time, while visiting a school in the city, the prime minister engaged in a mock “drill” with the children, who would hide under their desks when he called “red alert.” When our prime minister makes defeatist remarks to citizens facing missile attacks and indulges in such bizarre “games” with schoolchildren, one is sorely tempted to question whether he is losing the plot. But that in no way detracts from the fact that the entire government shares responsibility for the chaos enveloping the nation.
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