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January 22, 2007 (the date of publication in Russian)

Roman Bessonov

A SYSTEM FAILURE

Israel-2007 is alike Ukraine-2005

A VICTIM OF FORCE MAJEURE

Visiting the Promised Land on January 15, Ukraine's ex-Prime Minister Yulia Timoshenko delivered a generous promise of her own, "We (Ukraine) will be always side by side with Israel". Her counterpart, ex-Premier Binyamin "Bibi" Netanyahu, who is in a similar sought for political influence today, echoed with a more concise and therefore, a more intriguing statement: "Both of the present governments (of Israel and Ukraine) won’t live long!"

In Jerusalem (unlike Kiev), mass media left the arrival of Ukraine's "orange princess" almost unnoticed, and only a few Russian-language websites quoted Netanyahu's phrase, as his role in Israeli policy is not regarded as very significant. Meanwhile, the parallel between Israel and Ukraine, which would be regarded as nothing more as a joke a year and a half ago, is quite adequate.

Last summer, some Western media would make fun of Ukraine, where a furious clan brawl prevented the distribution of key government duties for three months, on the background of a half-elected and dysfunctionate constitutional court, coexistence of two general prosecutors, and media fight between intelligence generals, exposing one another of links to local gangsters.

The described anarchy in Kiev developed in the aftermath of the much-glorified "orange revolution" experiment. With Israel, luckily for this country, no experiments of this kind have been staged. Nevertheless, today's Israel has lately not just reached but bypassed Ukraine of year 2005 in the extent of political disorder, clan brawl, and hysteria of mutual accusations. In Israeli media, Prime Minister Yehud Olmert is described today as a figure as helpless as the unfortunate Ukraine's President Victor Yuschenko.

Victor Yuschenko has been grilled by national media over his inability to undertake and implement resolute decisions, mostly due to his psychological dependence from the so-called "close friends", "lyuby druzi", possessing more influence than any officials. This personal weakness of the head of state is a subject of mockery from his opponents and irritation from the shrunk array of is supporters.

Similar drawbacks are ascribed to Ehud Olmert. Yet when he was Acting Premier, with the legitimately elected Prime Minister Sharon alive but incapable, observers featured Olmert's manner of reticence and habit of making decisions in a narrow circle. While Yuscenko was brought to power through a legally doubtful, though West-approved operation of a third round of elections with a reshuffled national election authority, Olmert gained top power in the conditions of an even less predictable force majeure. The odd half-legitimate status inevitably influenced Olmert's morale, and thus the style of decision making. This style, irritating officials, observers and much of the society, fuels popular argumentation for new premature elections ("for research in this tradition", Mrs. Timoshenko arrived in Jerusalem).

The January 20 editorial in Haaretz, entitled bluntly "Govern, or Quit", blames the Premier for idleness and hesitation, not corresponding with his political role and even more, with the situation in the country and generally in the Middle East: "If Olmert thought the chief of staff should stay, he should have backed him; if he thought Amir Peretz were the right person for defense minister, he should have worked with him harmoniously. If he thought the Strategic Threats Ministry were not a joke, then he should have assigned it tasks and insisted it be funded. By doing none of this, choosing instead to let things run themselves while he carried on with his behind-the-scenes shenanigans... Olmert allowed public criticism to accumulate, and is now complaining about it".

The fact that even Haaretz, famous for its diplomatic language, is using such a kind of contemptuous characteristics and taking such a kind of categorical intonation indicates a really unstable state of affairs. Major European press echoes this intonation, prompting various options for the Premier's succession. No wonder that Bibi has livened up: premature elections could serve for him as the last opportunity for a political revenge.

"EACH THINKS OF HIMSELF"

The calendar of the Jewish state does not suggest any New Year vacations. While the Christian world was relaxing, Israel was still boiling with political passions. On January 8, a criminal investigation was launched on one more episode of Olmert's career. While the earlier charges, brought by State Comptroller Miha Lindenstrauss, were focused on a minor "privileged" real estate deal, new suspicions were related to more serious wrongdoings in the competition for the major stake of the formerly state-owned Leumi Bank, providing preference for Olmert's supposed "lyuby druzi".

Finance Minister Abraham Hirshsohn is facing similarly serious charges of massive embezzlement of trade union assets, involving, curiously, also the acting mayor of Ramat Ghan, Israel's diamond capital. This adds more fragility to the Government coalition, dominated with Sharon-founded Kadima Party and the leftist Labor Party (Avoda), traditionally supervising the state-run trade union federation, Histadrut, headed by Amir Peretz before his nomination as Minister of Defense.

After the miserable Lebanon war of 2006, Peretz's personal rating has reportedly collapsed to 3 per cent. Meanwhile, the Prime Minister does not seem committed to protect his partner and head of the defense authority. Rumors over a personal conflict between Olmert and Peretz were confirmed after the ensuing resignation of General Staff's chief Dan Halutz, the Premier and Defense Minister disagreeing on his successor.

Peretz's catastrophic unpopularity, revealed also in demonstrative resignation of a number of top generals, was aggravated with the brawl in his party, where an influential clan was trying to endorse ex-Premier Ehud Barak for the Defense Minister's post. However, this team was motivated not so much with the professional capabilities of Mr. Barak (in whose tenure Israel lost its stronghold in Southern Lebanon) but rather with the attempt to solve the problem of personal rivalry between Barak and one more ambitious Avoda politician, Ami Ayalon.

In the rightist circles, the disarray is even more spectacular. Two years ago, the personal competition between Ariel Sharon and Binyamin Netanyahu broke Likud, the major rightist party, into two. The newly-established Kadima, led by Sharon, won the elections, while the "titular" Likudniks, represented by Netanyahu, found themselves beyond the coalition. Still, the radical rightist Israel Beiteinu, the party of Netanyahu's once-close ally Avigdor Liberman, was unexpectedly invited to the Government – despite strong objectives from Avoda, a special post of Minister of Strategic Challenges being reserved for Liberman. The defiant Knesset majority, however, was reluctant to allocate finances for the new ministry, formally referring to vagueness of its mission and actually sabotaging the Premier's cadre policy. More impressing is the fact that the majority conveniently made use of the absence of Israel Beineinu's members at the session, who were then attending the funeral of their colleague Uri Stern who deceased from malignant brain tumor. Thus, political considerations overwhelmed moral priorities, typically for today's political class of Israel.

"The Government looks like a random combination of persons without any common goal: each is focused on himself and his own future", Haaretz's editorial ruthlessly concludes. Another report, entitled "The State Under Investigation", provides an impressing though incomplete list of state officials, suspected of various crimes. The list includes the misfortunate President Moshe Katsav, along with a number of names from Sharon's previous government. All of those criminal cases, often raised over facts of distant past, are strongly hyped by the same media which display concern of the state's security thus creating a strange impression of self-devouring elite.

Though it is no secret that Israeli media are also a part of economic competition (as recently demonstrated with the brawl between Gusinsky and Nimrodi for Maariv), the permanent "propaganda of misfortune" brings its results in public mind: 71% respondents of recent poll on Newsru.co.il believe that a political career in Israel is possible only through violation of law.

THE FRUIT OF "GLOBAL VALUES"

The much-hyped sexual harassment series, ascribed to the aged Moshe Katsav, faded on the background of a recent collective abuse of military officers in Ashkelon. Drunken warriors had sex in turn with the housewife, in this process starting a physical fight, one of them shooting at his friends, another fainting from alcohol overdose. While this episode luckily involved no lethal cases, another physical fight over control of a brothel in Tel Aviv, on the same day, resulted in death of one of the ponces. Shortly before, a young guy was reported to have selected a synagogue as a convenient place for trading pot.

One could just imagine the degree of Schadenfreude over the moral degeneration of the state, once established on religious foundations, experienced by an Islamic reader of this record, particularly in Iran. Today's Israeli media constitute a best possible propagandist advantage for Tehran's state propaganda. A country where everyone, from a student to the President, is involved in perversion is presentable as an impious tumor on the body of the East.

In a discussion on War-online.com, Israel's major military website, a recent reorganization of special forces is interpreted with skepticism: "No use, as the personnel is the same--"

Quite recently, the Israeli army would serve as an efficient melting pot for the new generation, assembling from the European, Asiatic and North African aliyah. This new generation was supposed to contribute not only in the military but even in the biological potential of the Israeli nation. In a TV report of 1996, a sunburnt young soldier would boast: "Young guys and girls meet each other, from the whole globe; just imagine what wonderful kids we are going to have!"

However, this human potential, to an increasing extent Afroasiatic, fell under a seal of a neoliberal standard of education, leisure, and entertainment, with a result illustrated above. Meanwhile, the community of Jewish Orthodox believers, which used to be as a crucial pillar of the state as the army, is becoming a save haven from youngsters, seeking to avoid army service under some pretext. The scale of this decay would be not so obvious if the tendencies in the neighbor Islamic states were not so strikingly opposite.

The decline of the army's authority in the eyes of the Israeli youth is also a result of an increasing alienation between the top command, degenerating along with the whole ruling class, and the army draftees. Military historian Yaakov Hisdai believes that the failure of the war venture in Lebanon is not just a result of an inadequate military leadership of Peretz and Halutz but rather an evidence of a "profound systemic failure" during a number of years. Hisdai believes that the investigative commission, focused on analysis of the army's errors, is a useless entity: "The real problem is not the particular mistakes of commanders the commission is focused on but generally, the social and political process in Israel, where the ruling class is getting increasingly rotten, while still committed to keep strong control over the society. For that reason, one or another scapegoat is presented to the public from time to time, while the ways of the establishment remain the same".

Liberacion's author Daphna Matthieu, addressing el Aviv University professor Yoram Peri for comment on the political situation, was probably expecting him to describe personal details of the power brawl. The scholar diagnosed not just Olmert but the society as a whole: "What we are facing today is a crisis of moral, the deepest since the state's foundation. Today's Israeli lack confidence not just in particular politicians but in basic institutions". Professor Peri associates the drastic changes in the society, "in foreign policy, with Oslo agreements, and in domestic affairs, with the decline of the collectivist ideology and transition towards liberal capitalism".

The crucial landmark of this transition was exactly the tenure of Binyamin Netanyahu, an American protégé in a refined version. Exactly under his rule, major financial and public institutions underwent a sheer privatization including Leumi Bank, in a competition now targeting Olmert.

Most of the new owners, though playing a formidable role in the diaspora, have no personal and political affinity to Israel. Frank Lowy (Levai), the reported beneficiary of the Leumi deal, has changed his citizenship to Australian years ago. He runs his 40-billion business mostly outside Israel; others expand financial operations to Russia and Central Asia.

Ehud Olmert has received this economy in the shape it had gotten years before. Today, he is blamed mostly for the carelessness of his predecessors, while for transnational tycoons, holy city Jerusalem is just one of the numerous hubs for their capital, like what Beirut used to be in the early XX century.

THE BACK SIDE OF THE BRAWL

Yoram Peri's reference to the Oslo peace process is probably the key point of his furious judgments. The formula of "peace in exchange for territories", involving two incomparable notions, materialized in the 1990s in a number of so-called joint economic projects for Israel and the future state of Palestine, which had nothing to do with physical economy, despite its importance for the Jews and Arabs, like the vital water desalination technologies for the area. The joint peace economy was focused on entertainment business. No wonder that this sphere is now governing the political process. The scandal over illegal financial deals, involving both Ariel Sharon's family and the top functionaries of the Arabic Fatkh party, is now beyond discussion in the corruption-obsessed mass media. The reasons for this selective silence was reveal in a number of January reports, highlighting a new political role of Yasser Arafat's former financial advisor Muhammed Rashid. This ethnic Kurdish financier is now evidently regarded as a sacred cow of the West, as he appeared to have played a crucial role in Libya's shift into the "anti-terrorist camp" in 2002.

Meanwhile, the gross embezzlement of international and Israeli financial assistance to Palestine, earlier ascribed to Rashid and partners, has become a major circumstance behind the decline of Fatkh's popularity among the low-income majority of the Arabs. On the contrary, the success of Hamas was a result of its involved in social activities, like construction of schools and hospitals in rural areas. As an alternative to the corrupted Arafat's party, it became a symbol of social justice, not just Arab nationalism. Such top teachers of liberal values as US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice must be well informed of this truth, left beyond media reports but still keep on demanding, with boring persistence, that Hamas be alienated from political power in Palestine.

Condoleezza's recent intervention seems to have shattered the Israeli policy as well: Dan Halutz resigned from his top military duties right after her visit to Jerusalem. One of the immediate pretexts was a new scandal, this time around the secret territorial agreements between Israel and Syria. The documents, surfacing as some observers have indicated right during the visit of the Secretary of State, were focused on Golan Heights which Halutz had been blamed of leaving unprotected at the onset of the Lebanese operation. The documents, containing a map of the supposed division of the strategic heights, were supposed to make Mrs. Rice furious, given her staunch opposition to any diplomacy between Jerusalem and the "rogue" Damascus.

In its turn, Olmert's "banking case" surfaced in the midst of another uncontrolled foreign political move of the Israeli leadership. The new charges were brought at the moment when Olmert was visiting China, the country from where his parents moved to Palestine, and where his father's father is buried. Officially, the purpose of the trip was an attempt to convince Beijing to influence Tehran on the Israeli issue, regarding China's dependence from Iranian fuel. Still, it involved also a number of economic aspects which Washington is especially nervous about. A number of military deals between Israel and China had been, by ultimatum, undermined by Washington. This reminds again of Ukraine, once encouraged to sell tanks to Pakistan and later punished for the same.

One more, possibly the most unexpected parallel to Kiev was highlighted in the recent political speeches of Avigdor Liberman. When he insisted that Israel join the queue of applicants for EU membership, this proposal sounded as a joke. But the minister was serious, definitely referring to considerations as important as the motives for Olmert's Chinese visit.

Raanan Eliaz, ex-coordinator of Israel's National Security Council and presently a doctorant of the Catholic University of Leuven, Belgium, believes that in the conditions of "volatility of the US role in Middle East", Israel's increased partnership with the EU would be of mutual benefit. Eliyaz assumes that the United States "has failed to ensure Israel's lasting longevity and independence", being today unable to stabilize the situation in the region alone. Meanwhile, "Europe has a clear interest in stabilizing its backyard and it can offer incentives and exert leverages the U.S. cannot".

In this context, it is quite natural that Israel's Foreign Minister Tsipi Livni, regarded by European media as the most probable successor of Ehud Olmert, is trying to establish closer relations not with Condoleezza Rice but rather with such European ladies as Britain's Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett and France's socialist presidential candidate Ségolène Royal. It is hardly accidental that in foreign policy, the role of Olmert's key advisor is played by Shimon Peres, whom Israel owes not only special relations with France but French-acquired nuclear technologies.

ESCAPE FROM A SLAVE MODE

A number of authors, including Raanan Eliaz, emphasized that the failed military campaign in Lebanon has even more increased the psychological dependence of the Israeli ruling class from Washington though it was the US which failed to provide needed intelligence support for the attempt to capture Sheikh Nasrallah.

The tendency is now splitting the Israeli Government. Some political and diplomatic figures are digging in expectations for Washington's patronage like ostriches in the sand like, for instance, Dani Ayalon, former Israeli Ambassador in Washington. On September 10, he personally prevented a rare possibility of a meeting between Knesset's chair Dalia Yitzik and Iran's ex-President Mohammad Khattami whose delegations accidentally met in Dulles Airport. At his farewell meeting with George W. Bush, Mr. Ayalon characterized the US President as "Winston Churchill today", promising, in a humble posture of a doorkeeper, to establish an institution in Israel named in Mr. Bushs honor.

For more sober-minded and more responsible Israeli politicians, additional dependence from Washington is viewed as a burden. They are seeking sources for Israel's survival in diversity of its connections in the multipolar world. These politicians, including Olmert, have grounds to fear that the collapse of the global American empire may bury the battered heritage of the Israeli dream under its own shambles.

No wonder that "Olmert is under pressure from all the fronts", as Israeli websites report. This pressure is as massive, arrogant, controversial and destructive as last year's efforts of the rivaling American political lobbyist groups to "correctly democratize" Ukraine some relying upon Timoshenko, others upon Yuschenko. Israeli publishers, hurrying to inform Mrs. Rice of the unofficial backing from Vice President Cheney her partisan opponent for the Golan Heights agreements, are fitting into the same pattern.

A "correct democratization" of Israel today means its involvement into the US calculated effort of stoking hate between the Gulf's Arab states and "rogue" Iran and Syria, and more generally, between the Sunni and the Shi'i communities of the Moslem world. The implementations of those explosive plans endanger the existence of Lebanon, Israel and Palestine. Verbal bipartisan promises to protect Israel in the US Congress, in the given context, are not guaranteeing anything to neither Jerusalem nor Al Quds as every move of the State Department's machinery, its mode of operation being adjusted solely for propping up a desperate George W. Bush, is only increasing instability among states, populations, and beliefs across Middle East.

While the guest from Ukraine was busy promoting the recognition of "golodomor" (the famine of 1933 in Ukraine, allegedly a vicious purpose of Joseph Stalin) as genocide of Ukrainians comparable to the Holocaust, her Israeli counterpart, Mr. Netanyahu, was rehearsing his attack on Ahmadinejad from a London tribune over "appeals for a new genocide of Jews". Those efforts would hardly contribute to Israel's international affairs, as well as to the impulsive behavior of Washington. Instead, the election-related rhetoric of Mr. Netanyahu, the only top Israeli politician openly demanding US punitive bombing of Iran, is igniting a fuse under the easily combustible substance of Hamas right at the moment when this party, unlike Fatkh, agreed for a ten-year truce with the state of Israel.

In case this provocative line prevails, in case the Israeli leaders will slavishly yield to every pull of the twisted strings from the White House, the Promised Land by the new elections would be compared rather not with Ukraine but with one more ex-USSR republic where the presence of seven thousands of Western non-governmental organizations has miserably failed to prevent an open clan warfare and political chaos, the republic named Kyrgyzstan.

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