Elections for Israel's parliament are scheduled for February 10, 2009. Israel, the least stable parliamentary regime in the Middle East, now holds parliamentary elections on the average of one every 2-3 years. There is no reason to believe that the government to be elected will last longer than its predecessors. So the question is: who will be the best prime minister for Israelis and the Palestinians ruled by Israel. As far as I can see, there are two main possibilities: Tzipi Livni and Benjamin Netanyahu. Between the two, Netanyahu wins hands down.
Tzipi Livni is considered a moderate by Israeli standards, which means that she is rightwing by most people's standards. She rose within the Likud party and followed Sharon and Olmert in starting the Kadima party. She has had some ministerial posts, but, aside from a few interesting comments, she has done nothing to distinguish herself, nor has she taken any risks for her positions. She was a pale and ineffectual Foreign Minister; she would be a pale and ineffectual Prime Minister.
However her reputation for being a moderate, coupled with her gender, makes her a problematic choice for Israeli prime minister. As a perceived moderate, she will be cut a lot of slack by the Obama administration, as was Sharon and Olmert by the Bush administration. As a perceived moderate who is also a woman, she will be cut even more slack by the world. The story of her election will not be about the success of yet another mediocre Likud functionary, but of a woman. And just as the Republicans played the gender card as much as they could in order to defend Sarah Palin, so too, the Israels would do that with Livni. Livni would be the first woman prime minister since that all-time-disaster, Golda Meir. No, I don't think that Livni is as bad as Golda. But what government will want to put pressure on her?
By contrast, Bibi's candidacy looks like pure gold. Let us count the ways:
1. Bibi enjoys a negative reputation outside of Israel. Unlike Livni, Bibi is tarred with the rightwing brush. The folks outside of Israel remember the Rabin assassination, and Bibi's tenure as prime minister, long after most Israelis have forgotten it. They remember how he has opposed every peace initiative from the right. He is the face of Israel intransigence, God bless him. And that will make it easier to put pressure on his administration.
2. Bibi talks tough, but has wimped out time after time. He wimped out after the Jerusalem tunnels were opened, at Wye Plantation, and during the Golan negotiations. He is easy to pressure and he buckles under pressure. He craves US acceptance.
3. By contrast, Ehud Barak, talked the peace talk and was cut enormous slack by the Clinton administration and the world. Settlements boomed during his tenure, and the Intifada blew up after his "generous offer" was rejected.
4. Bibi doesn't believe in the peace process, and he is correct not to. The peace process is a sham that helps Israel while hurting the Palestinians. Better that there be no illusions to the contrary. Bibi has said that while he doesn't believe in the peace process, he does want to improve the Palestinian economy. I don't think he will do that when faced with the realities of governing Israel and making his constituency happy. But if he is able to raise the quality of life among the Palestinians as a trade-off for political recognition and independence, then that is preferable to denying them both.
5. Electing Bibi will be another recognition that Israel has run out of ideas and out of fresh faces that can bring hope. Now that Bibi has copied the look and feel of the Obama website, and is positioning himself as the candidate for change (!), his election can only place in stark relief the weariness of Israeli politics.
A final note: The usual suspects of the old "Zionist left," led by dinosaur Amos Oz, are forming a new party with the tentative name, "Titanic Desk-Chairs," or something like that. The only interesting one in the bunch is Avrum Burg, but his willingness to join a reinvented Meretz speaks volumes about his insatiable political appetite.
Wake me up when it is over.