A leader is born

Posted in Israel / Palestine | 03-Feb-06 | Author: Yoel Marcus| Source: Ha'aretz

Israeli acting premier Ehud Olmert (L) speaks at a Kadima party conference in Jerusalem.

This week's events could take their name from a British rave film called "24-Hour Party People." On Tuesday evening, Kadima, now an honest-to-goodness party, trotted out its first 50 candidates for the next Knesset. As the parliamentarians of the future partied, and the media cracked jokes about Kadima having more mandates than candidates and using the audition methods of "A Star is Born," dawn came, and with it, the first violent clash between the authority of the state and a delinquent mob.

Thousands of soldiers and policemen, battling thousands of violent settlers and extremists, among them MKs who added fuel to the fire, tore down nine houses in the settlement of Amona, leaving 220 wounded. Unlike the evacuation of Gush Katif, there were no kisses or hugs here. People did not cry on each other's shoulders. This time we saw blood and gore.

Some have described what went on in Amona as the end of the "hold your fire" era. To wit: The law is the law, and it must be enforced. It was also a preview of what lies in store for the illegal outposts - which the Cossacks for a Greater Israel and the hilltop youth have not allowed enforcement authorities to evacuate - when Kadima comes to power.

Olmert had a fit when he heard that Shelly Yachimovitch accused him of flexing his muscles to prove he was a leader. "What would she say if I hadn't gone ahead with the evacuation?" he sputtered behind closed doors.

We are being horribly provoked, Olmert said in private, but this week I lay down the parameters for any future battle.

The timing of the evacuation, on the week that Hamas won and Israel kicked off its election campaign, may not have been ideal, but it was carried out in the wake of a court decision.

Olmert believes that this evacuation gives him the power to be stubborn on other issues when presenting Israel's case to the world. The German chancellor, who was just here, and now the leaders of Europe and even Mubarak, have adopted Olmert's ABCs for resuming dialogue: A) Hamas' total disarmament; B) Hamas' renunciation of its charter and recognition of Israel; and C) Hamas' acceptance of all existing agreements between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

Let no one be surprised if Olmert transfers 250 million shekels to the PA this month as a gesture of goodwill, after receiving guarantees that the money won't land up in the hands of any terrorist outfit.

Olmert has stepped into the shoes of Kadima chairman and acting prime minister with a goodly measure of self-confidence. He denies that he has plucked candidates for his list from here, there and everywhere, as his critics are saying. At least 37 of them were selected in coordination with Sharon.

As a party that has no formal institutions, central committee or primaries apparatus yet, Kadima is using the old action committee system. Despised in the past, this is a system that many people have begun to miss now that primaries have become a den of corruption and central committees are mini-dictatorships.

Among those who have been assigned realistic slots on the Kadima list there are quite a few quality people and political newbies who identify with Kadima's platform - the type the public has in mind when it gets nostalgic for "those good people we used to have once upon a time."

Although Sharon's spirit hovered over the evacuation of Amona this week, some people believe that if he weren't in a coma, it might not have happened. They say he might have looked for, and found, some way of postponing this violent confrontation until after the elections, if not indefinitely.

Olmert's resolve, however, may be a hint that Sharon's stand-in and successor is sending an independent message, in preparation for the day when he puts together a government of his own.

Without hugs and kisses, without sly winks at the settlers, he will focus on establishing permanent borders for a state with a Jewish majority - even if it means a head-on collision with the extremists. In his audition for a "A Leader is Born," Olmert has not fudged things yet. But 50 days of electioneering from the day he submits his list to the Election Committee until the country goes to the polls, is quite a stretch of time.

During this period, it is important for him to consolidate Kadima and present a clear political and social platform. Every party was new once. What will determine Kadima's fate is not the thrill of victory but what its leaders achieve.