The last politician who was properly elected as prime minister of Israel was Yitzhak Rabin.
That is because when most of the Israeli public voted for Rabin's coalition in the summer of 1992, this vote did in fact express a true and positive belief in Rabin and his path. On the other hand, in all the election campaigns conducted here since the middle of the 1990s, the men elected to lead the nation were not chosen for themselves, but because of their opponents. And actually, it can be said that in a certain sense, it was not they themselves who were elected to the high office. Because it was not Benjamin Netanyahu who was elected to serve as prime minister of Israel in 1996, but rather -- not Peres. Anyone-but-Peres. And it was not Ehud Barak who was elected prime minister of Israel in 1999, but -- not Netanyahu. Anyone-but-Netanyahu. And now, too, it is not Ariel Sharon who is apparently about to be elected prime minister, but -- not Barak. Anyone-but-Barak.
The protest vote is a legitimate phenomenon. The desire to replace failing leaders is a healthy desire, which testifies to democratic vitality. However, there is something almost scary in the way that Israel has been finishing off its prime ministers in recent years, and in the way Israel prefers, a priori, the head of the opposition to the head of the government. Because Israel demands almost nothing of the next-in-line to be its future leader, to whom it will lend its support once every year or two: neither a proven record of activity, nor a program of action, nor a world view. The only trait which it does demand of him is that he not be his predecessor. That he become a guillotine by means of which it will be possible to quickly -- and without hesitation -- remove the political head of his predecessor.
Each and every one of Israel's recent prime ministers was a man of many shortcomings. Each and every one of them made fatal mistakes. But only a blind man can fail to see that the accelerated process of removing the heads of Israeli leaders (if Sharon is elected, he will be the sixth prime minister here in a period of under nine years) does not stem only from their personality defects and their personal failures.
Only a blind man can fail to see that the phenomenon taking place under our eyes is structural and long-term, rather than personal and localized. Because now it should be clear to all of us, that the continual replacement of those in the captain's seat stems from the fact that Israel is undergoing a profound existential crisis. A crisis which causes anyone who tries to stabilize the Israeli ship of state and to navigate and bring it to a safe shore, to be quickly and cruelly tossed overboard.
The profound crisis which is causing the failure of all the Israeli prime ministers, bar none, was created by two crucial decisions taken in 1992 and 1993. The first was produced and directed by Uriel Reichman, an energetic law professor who brought about the stupidest government revolution carried out in any Western country in the past generation [the direct election of the prime minister]. The second decision was produced and directed by Justice Minister Yossi Beilin, an energetic doctor of political science, who had Israel sign an illusory document [the Oslo Accords] which undermines the foundations of its existence.
Even if there is no apparent connection between these two stupid decisions (which were promoted mainly by the same population of enlightened and well-meaning secular Ashkenazim), they actually complemented one another: The one decision shattered Israeli parliamentary democracy, while the other shattered Israel's national security. The one placed Israel in a position of chronic lack of internal stability, while the other placed it in a position of endemic lack of strategic stability. The one decision turned Israel into an ungovernable state, and the other turned it into an indefensible one.
For this reason, for the past seven years, since being subjected to the Reichman law and the Beilin process, Israel has been suffering from an acute case of instability. It is in an existential whirlpool. And for this reason, its leaders are, to a great extent, trapped. They are navigating through a typhoon. Because not one of them is capable of leading the country after Reichman caused its central government to disintegrate. Not one of them is capable of defending the country after Beilin entrusted its security to the hands of its enemies.
In this state of affairs, it is not at all surprising that every Israeli prime minister proves a disappointment to his voters within a short time, makes his citizens angry, and arouses a naive, almost childish desire for the next leader. Because given the present internal and external conditions, no incumbent Israeli prime minister is capable of giving Israel back its lost balance. And no Israeli prime minister is capable of giving the public what it demands of him: security, peace, and hope.
And therefore, when his turn comes, every incumbent Israeli prime minister turns into an unsuccessful optical illusion. Because on principle, he does not have the power, upon his entry into the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, to keep those promises which he was required to scatter about in order to reach that office. Because this office has become an accursed one, since the beginning of the 1990s. An office which is being increasingly paralyzed by the curse of Reichman on the one hand, and the curse of Beilin on the other. These curses are rapidly changing it from the focal point of Israeli sovereignty to the focal point of Israeli weakness. The focal point of being lost.
This article appeared in Ha'aretz of January15, 2001.
Outpost - 10 - February 2001