I suppose that it says something about the state of American election-year politics, or the blogosphere, that the toppling of an Israeli Prime Minister has been greeted with mostly a deafening silence.
Maybe there wasn’t that much to say. I think that Aluf Benn’s analysis in Ha’aretz is pretty close to the mark. As much as I respect Yossi Klein Halevi, he can trend toward the vituperative, and his take in TNR is just that: to hear Halevi tell it, Olmert was the worst Prime Minister the country ever had, 31 months of no redeeming features.
That’s quite unfair. Olmert made some horrific mistakes, but in terms of broad strategy, I think that history might actually look a little more kindly on him (not hard given the almost-universal condemnation he receives now). He really was the first major figure in the Likud who realized that holding onto the territories meant demographic disaster for Israel. (One could include Dan Meridor, but in typical fashion, Meridor never really advocated for his point of view). To be sure, Labor and the rest of the Israeli left had been saying it for a while, but someone needed to bring at least part of Likud into the reality-based universe. Olmert took the risk of saying it, and when the world didn’t come to an end, then Sharon followed. Maybe Sharon got him to do it; but Olmert took the risk, knowing that his career was finished if it didn’t work.
As for Olmert’s corruption, if it’s true, it is just as horrific as the errors of the Lebanon War–and unfortunately, as Halevi observes, all-too-common among Israel’s political elite.
What now? In the short run, we will wait to see who wins the leadership struggle within Kadima–Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni or Transportation Minister (and former IDF chief of staff) Shaul Mofaz. Livni’s the better choice–she gets the strategic and existential imperative of a settlement, although like any sane individual she also understands that you can’t get a deal when the other side doesn’t want it. I distrust Mofaz: he jumped from Likud for political reasons, and while he was a good chief of staff, I hardly see him as a good strategic decision-maker. A long-running plague in Israeli political culture has been the cult of military men thinking that they can be political leaders. It rarely works.
I actually suspect that if Livni wins, Mofaz might take a whole bunch of Kadima MKs with him back to Likud, and prevent Livni from forming a government. Polls show Likud way ahead now, so Mofaz might figure he’ll ride the train back to Likud and become Bibi’s Defence Minister. That would be a disaster, but as they say in Israel, “Don’t worry–it will get worse.”