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ISRAEL: Politics' wheel of misfortune

October 28, 2008 |  6:46 am

Elections_2In May, the police dropped a bombshell on Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and the country in the midst of its 60th   anniversary celebration: another investigation of corruption allegations, this time far more serious.

Olmert professed innocence but promised to resign if indicted.

In June, defense minister Ehud Barak threatened to break up the coalition and coerced Kadima into electing a leader to replace Olmert as party chairman and prime minister.

In September, Tzipi Livni became chairwoman of Kadima by a narrow and contested margin and was entrusted with the task of forming a new government, while Olmert resigned and became caretaker of the now-transitional government. But after a month of negotiating, Livni returned this mandate to the president and asked for general elections after failing to form a new coalition.

On Monday, the parliament returned from the summer and holiday recess and reconvened for what might be the shortest winter session ever; the 17th Knesset will be quickly dissolved. Olmert will remain prime minister until elections are held, most likely in mid-February. Now the police say the prime minister could be indicted in a matter of days.

Dizzy? Join the club.

The past few months have been a constant dust storm of events that might span a decade in other, more stable systems. News in Israel is pretty much 24/7, and any falling tree makes a sound in these woods where the floodlights are always on. Politics, press and public are on an interactive kind of action-report-reaction-repeat cycle, and news is more formative than informative. This hyperactive system arouses the press but desensitizes a public that is rapidly losing faith in national and governmental institutions.

Politicians' fortunes turn furiously too. Livni goes from Princess Prime Minister to Pumpkin (and halfway back) within weeks and transportation minister Shaul Mofaz was prince for a day. Benjamin Netanyahu and Barak, mythological exes and nemeses to Israel and each other, are anointed, crowned and deposed on a daily basis -- and Olmert has so far outlived them all.

The election campaign is already full throttle. Operation code name: Responsibility. Vying for the position of Israel's Responsible Adult, all politicians -- wannabes, has-beens and come-back kids alike -- have turned the word "responsibility" into a cliche: We will/won't join the government out of responsibility, we will/won't negotiate over Jerusalem out of responsibility, we will/won't increase budget expenditure out of responsibilty.   

This is enough to give anyone a headache. Consider this kiosk's kindly request (photo above): "Elections are an important topic for discussion ... but this is not the place. Sorry."

-- Batsheva Sobelman in Jerusalem

Photo: A kiosk's laminated, rain-proof request asking customers to take it outside. Credit: Batsheva Sobelman/ Los Angeles Times

P.S. Get news from the Middle East in your mailbox every day. The Los Angeles Times distributes a free daily newsletter with the latest headlines from the Middle East, as well as the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. You can subscribe by logging in at the website here, clicking on the box for "L.A. Times updates" and then clicking on the "World: Mideast" box.

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