Kadima Failed

If there is anything we can learn from the Olmert government, it is something we already knew but were afraid to admit: unity governments don't work.

Fred Taub, Boycott Watch

OpEds לבן ריק
לבן ריק
Arutz 7
If there is anything we can learn from the Olmert government, it is something we already knew but were afraid to admit: unity governments don't work. Sure, the idea sounds great, everyone sitting at the same table, working together, singing "Kumbaya", but what significant accomplishments have been made in any unity government in Israel? Anyone? That's right. Nothing.
Historically, Israel has ended up with unity governments when the dominant parties can not form a government because they do not have enough of a Knesset mandate, and usually after smaller parties have become spoilers, taking away votes the same way third-party conservative Ross Perot helped Democrat Bill Clinton become president.
Unity governments are formed by political surrender, theoretically forcing rivals to work together. The problem, however, is that the power-sharing deals prevent any ideology from governing. This leads to gridlock via constant compromise, which inherently results in no substantial progress on any issue because real leadership is placed on a leash.

So, what did the Israeli public expect when they voted in Ehud Olmert? Kadima was born out of public frustration stemming from constant terrorism with no end on the horizon, and out of a new vision from a strong leader, Ariel Sharon. From a political standpoint, giving away land for peace can only be accomplished by those who are ideologically against it, as Menachem Begin did; so, Sharon had the political clout and was able to attract enough left-wing support over this one issue to form a political organization that was anything but a third party. Due to illness, though, the captain of the ship was not able to finish his mission and Israel followed Olmert and the team out of respect for Sharon. We only later learned that Olmert did not have the tactical acuity of his mentor, resulting in his loss of political clout.
When Sharon created Kadima, Israel was in a political stalemate over how to achieve peace. World pressure to create a Palestinian state was so strong that I believe Sharon felt he had no choice but to give in to it despite his personal beliefs. The difference in leadership skills between Sharon and Olmert, however, is striking. Sharon is a military tactician who played politics like a battlefield. Olmert spent his political career being building consensus, as mayor of Jerusalem and in the Knesset, where he built coalitions for the Likud.
This explains why Sharon picked Olmert as his deputy. Sharon needed the consensus and team-building skills Olmert brought to the table in order to create his Kadima concept. Without Olmert, Sharon could not initiate his plan, but exactly what the full plan entailed can only be speculated on. What we do know is that Sharon wanted to get out of Gaza to remove the complaint by Palestinians that they can not form a successful government with Israeli soldiers hanging around. Sharon may have intended to call their bluff.

Sharon's evacuation of Gaza was more difficult than Begin's evacuation of the Sinai for several reasons. Sharon gambled with Israeli lives while expecting nothing in return, which was clearly a bad bet even then. Hamas and Hizbullah later saw weakness in the Olmert government and thus initiated coordinated kidnappings of Israeli soldiers. But the Arabs did not anticipate the Israeli reaction, as Hizbullah chief Hassan Nasrallah said. However, because Israel's government was a coalition of key ministers with differing ideologies, Olmert had to go back to his cabinet and have each segment of his military response approved by people who did not share his fundamental beliefs. A strong leader could instead have given his generals one order and let them do their jobs.

Olmert started off as a weak coalition leader who had his hands tied, and who therefore had to negotiate something away for every military option he deemed necessary. Politics played a role in Israel's inability to prosecute the Hizbullah war, because compromising with ideological opposites requires political capital. Olmert's bank account had limitations. There are certainly many opposition party cabinet members who stand to gain by Olmert's defeat, which is the main reason unity governments inherently fail - cabinet ministers openly sing "Kumbaya" while they mumble political war chants.
The question remains as to what Sharon was trying to accomplish. I believe Sharon wanted to create a Gaza entity completely devoid of Israeli presence to show the world that what he said all along was true: a Palestinian state would not be peaceful. Rather, it would be a terrorist entity with no desire for peace. Olmert, on the other hand, simply failed to convey that idea to the world.
Instead of being the master chess player in the world political arena, Olmert is playing checkers, keeping his ship running full steam ahead, instead of taking tactical evasive maneuvers in the world's political minefield. At the moment, nobody has any idea where Olmert is leading Israel. We only see what he is doing day to day. No wonder Olmert's approval rating is the lowest of any prime minister in Israel's history. People expect leaders to have a plan. What is Olmert's response? The same as it always has been: build a consensus.
Just days after the US elections, Olmert went to Washington to speak to President George Bush about Iran, repeating old rhetoric in order to deflect his crisis at home. Olmert's only accomplishment was building a consensus with Bush, something he could have done in a phone call. But Olmert had no other consensus left to build in Israel, so he took what he could get.
Meanwhile, after recent renewed rocket shelling of Sderot, Olmert must have realized his implementation of Sharon's plan is not working. For Olmert, a new military incursion into Gaza would be an admission of failure after failing to end the terrorist attacks the first time. Olmert is in a no-win situation with regards to Gaza and he has nothing left in his political bank account to negotiate away for Kadima.
This also explains why Olmert is still in power. Recently, Olmert has made several political gestures to Mahmoud Abbas reminiscent of a movie with a bad plot; yet, we have yet to see a no-confidence vote. This leads me to one conclusion: the political chits and favors Olmert had to promise to gain the unanimous consent of his cabinet to prosecute the war against Hizbullah in Lebanon are being called in, and Olmert is paying those bills at the expense of Israeli families. Olmert, therefore, will remain in power only as long as cabinet members can collect IOU's.
Olmert does not see a crisis in government, merely a crisis in consensus, which is why he plods ahead while redeeming IOU's, playing checkers with Israeli lives on the world chess board. Olmert may have been delusional in thinking he was doing good for Israel. But Kadima has never been a ship he could steer; he keeps sinking his passengers deeper and deeper into quicksand while his crew is busy grabbing souvenirs and cheering him on.
Sooner or later, it will become time to pay Olmert's larger and collective due bills, some of which people may claim have already been paid with Israeli lives. But more is yet to come, because politicians in Israel are too busy thinking about their own careers instead of the lives of the people they were elected to serve.
© Fred Taub, 2006