Perhaps no two democracies are so different in their size, wealth, government structures, and political cultures as the United States and Israel, but now their citizens are facing similar problems as they approach changes in key personnel.
Americans are dealing with two candidates having considerable experience (McCain and Biden), and two with virtually none (Obama and Palin). Trash masters can find a lot to ridicule in the statements and actions of McCain and Biden, and no end of gaps in those of Obama and Palin.
Israeli trash managers can paw through several decades of in the records of the leading candidates for heading the government after Ehud Olmert hangs up his expensive suits and puts away his prized fountain pens, and turns full time to his lawyers and the police. There are no Israeli equivalents of the novices contending for leading positions in American government.
The major similarities concern the serious nature of problems facing both countries, and the lack of certainty as to how each of the candidates will deal with them. Both McCain and Obama have spoken about the issues associated with the area from Iraq through Iran to Afghanistan. Yet no one can indicate what each would do after taking office, when the dynamics produce constant change in the composite of problems.
Iran will also trouble whoever occupies the central seat at Israel's government table, along with problems out of Syria, Lebanon, and the two Palestines. There are talks underway with Syria and Palestine of the West Bank. All the signs are that there will remain a great deal for the new government to do in both cases, as well as to keep the military prepared for whatever may develop in those places, as well as in Gaza, Lebanon, and Iran.
There is much lot to criticize in the collection of candidates of both countries. McCain's age and health raise questions not assuaged by a long history of presidential physicians evading the truth about their patients. One can hope that Obama and Palin are not as naive as we are led to believe. Those of us on the outside depending on American wisdom have good reasons to worry.
Unless there is a event dramatic enough to provoke a military response, Israel seems destined for several months of shuffling in place without a strong national leadership.
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni is poised to assume the leadership of the Kadima party in a primary later this month. She may not be able to create a new government, and the result would be a national election early in 2009. Until there is a new government in place, we may be saddled with Prime Minister Olmert, unless the attorney general decides that the police have produced enough evidence for an indictment, and he must leave office. Meanwhile, Olmert may be offering concessions to the Palestinians beyond what any of the candidates to replace him would accept. Wags are saying that he wants to garner more praise in the history books than in those of the police.
Tzipi Livni is not Barak Obama. She grew up with two politically active parents, and has held senior positions in government since 1996. For the past year she has been a key negotiator with the Palestinians. Occasionally she has indicated her reservations about what Olmert is offering, but she has not clarified what she would accept. When asked, she responds that the negotiations must remain out of the media in order to succeed.
Her most appealing quality is a reputation free of deals on the edge of legality, or over the edge, like those identified with Olmert and each of her principal rivals: Shaul Mofaz, Ehud Barak, and Benyamin Netanyahu.
She has a reputation for indecisiveness. The public has little basis of judging how she would react to a middle of the night telephone call about a crisis, requiring a quick response.
None of this is unusual for the politics of democratic societies. Voters have limited capacity to select the nominees of major parties. We often select the least undesirable candidate rather than anyone we can assume will solve the country's problems. Voters naive enough to think otherwise may not realize that the candidates themselves cannot indicate how they will respond to events not yet apparent, or how they will deal with advisors and other politicians who have their own interests.
We hope for the best, even if we have no reason to expect it.
Posted by Ira Sharkansky at September 01, 2008 06:04 AM
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Home tel: 972-2-532-2725
Cell phone: 054-683-5325