Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Carry A Big Stick, And Shout Loudly...

I'm intrigued by Shaul Mofaz.

I've always assumed that politicians everywhere would say anything in order to secure the votes of a gullible public. But Mr Mofaz seems to be taking this on to another level altogether.

He has blamed the current security woes in Israel on...well, me, actually: "We always take into account what the goyim will say," Mofaz said. "I don't care what the goyim will say. I care about the security of the citizens of Israel. Do you think the pictures on CNN matter to me as much as the children and their fears and the residents of Sderot and Ashkelon who have abandoned their homes? No way!"

He inadvertently (cack-handedly) caused a spike in the oil price with ill-judged (and completely unsourced) comments about Mr Ahmedinajad's obsession;

He has promised to keep Jerusalem united, for eternity;

He has promised to take direct and personal responsibility for the current 'Peace' talks between the Israeli Government and the Palestinian National Authority. On the last point, anyone with long memory would either burst out in laughter or bitter tears, but I'll come back to that in a minute.

The problem is that Mr Mofaz is saying all this just to secure a mandate from Kadima, his party, as its Prime Ministerial candidate whenever there is a general election.

(Oh, by the way, I'm refusing to say goodbye to Tricky Udi - he won't go anywhere until he's led away in shackles, methinks)

What he would do if he does secure the mandate and runs for Prime Minister is anyone's guess.

To a degree, commentators are being a bit unfair about Mofaz. As is the case in Israel, some criticism is undoubtedly rooted in a snobbery towards his Mizrahi roots, the same sort of thing that contributed to the exodus of elderly Ma'paikniks from Avoda when Amir Peretz beat Shim-Shim three and a half years ago.

(A note for the mercifully uninformed: Ma'pai was the predecessor of the present Avoda, or Labour Party. It was in government, uninterrupted, from 1948 until 1977, and is thus responsible for most of the ills of this country today. It was the establishment, WASP party - White, Ashkenazi, Secular and Paratroopers [elite military units]. Shim Shim, currently in Beijing, was the arch-Mapaiknik, but is currently, notionally, a member of Kadima)

But then...

The first thing to note is the Mofaz, unlike Peretz, is not playing the ethnic card. He can't, really, because he has been at the centre of the establishment. A former Chief of Staff and Defence Minister can hardly claim discrimination in a society as militarized as Israel.

On the other hand, like Peretz, he really does appear to be pretty much inexperienced outside his core area - which, to put it crudely, is eliminating tiresome Palestinians. At the moment, he is the country's Transport Minister, a post as influential as being a Traffic Cop. He hasn't held any of the major cabinet posts outside Defence - Finance, Foreign Affairs, Justice, Interior. He isn't surrounded by people who show any specialist knowledge in these areas. And I'm not sure he has noticed, yet.

The problem with Mofaz is that he is resolutely old school - the state of the country starts, and ends, with Ha Matzav - the situation - with the next door neighbours, and the *cousins* further afield in the Arab world. Which is correct, up to a point. However, what he doesn't realise - and what everyone else, from Bibi downwards, does - is that if one fails to keep one's eye on the ball, pretty soon there won't be much worth fighting for, what with capital flight, a slowing of inward investment, brain drain and so on manifesting a lack of faith in the Israeli economy, which is what matters. And sabre rattling, without the necessary placatory words to show that there is at least a residual interest in achieving some sort of peace with the Palestinians, isn't very 21st Century.

Furthermore, the spectre of the Second Lebanon War and the Winograd Committee still loom over him - the general consensus is that the weaknesses in the Israeli Army started to set in during his watch, and that his poor advice to Olmert during the war - bombard from the air, hold the ground troops, oh, look, the UN are actually negotiating a ceasefire, send in the ground forces quickly whilst no-one's looking - was at the centre of that fuck up.

Kadima - inasmuch as it didn't have much of a philosophy to start off with other than being King Arik's escape hatch from Likud - espouses, in public at least, a more measured approach to handling the Palestinian problem. Mofaz, in that respect, is an anachronism - he was once indiscreet enough to suggest, with a live microphone under his nose, that the Israelis take out Arafat - and probably belongs back in Likud. But since he left in a fit of pique after failing to upstage Bibi, I doubt if they'll have him back.

And, even stranger yet, Bibi probably fancies his chances of becoming Israel's next PM a lot more without Mofaz. Two hard core Bibi haters of my acquaintance have said that they will consider voting for him if Mofaz wins the Kadima primaries - akin, for them, to Turkeys voting for Christmas.

(Ehud Barak isn't a serious option, for all sorts of reasons too long and depressing to go into here. Maybe another time...)

The primaries are next month, just before the New Year. Let's see what happens...

Next: Tziporah Livni

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