A Good Year for the Undertaker

Posted on September 21, 2008


Gila Svirsky
Jerusalem, Israel

As Carole King sings:
You know, the people were quite pleased
‘Cause the outlaw had been seized
And on the whole, it was a very good year
For the undertaker.

Well, the alleged outlaw, Ehud Olmert, awaits indictment, probably on
charges of fraud, abuse of public trust, maybe bribery, too. The evidence
draws a portrait of a man committed to the good life and political
aggrandizement, but it does not point to a major scheme for financial
bonanza. Olmert was not toppled because of corruption (Sharon and Arafat
both maintained their popularity through multiple corruption scandals), but
because he delivered to Israel its first loss at war – in Lebanon, of

And now Tzipi Livni – scion of a militant dynasty, graduate of Mossad covert
operations, protegee of Arik Sharon – was elected head of the ruling party
in Israel, and she too talks about change, a new way of doing politics, a
preference for peace over territory. This is not a course correction, but
the deepening of a direction that had been taken by Sharon and reinforced by
Olmert, his successor. All three had been staunch advocates of “the greater
land of Israel” ideology until recent years. Investing in the occupied
territories had been a mistake, a long and expensive mistake, said Olmert
this morning in a post-election interview.

But can we count on Livni to do the right thing, to sit down and negotiate a
peace that will be acceptable to both sides – a two-state solution that
shares Jerusalem as the capital, a just and viable scenario for the
Palestinian refugees, an equitable distribution of water resources,
investment in the development of Palestine to ensure its economic viability?

Tzipi Livni is not Mother Teresa nor the Dalai Lama. She probably more
closely resembles Alfred Nobel himself, once called a “merchant of death”
for inventing and commercializing dynamite. Livni, too, served the military
establishment in Israel until she left it for a law career. What made her
leave? Rumors abound, but Livni is reticent about this as in other areas.
Will she, like Nobel, also seek a place in history by making up for years of
feeding the war machine?

Livni will have many obstacles, the first being to forge a government
coalition that will include partners who are not on her side. Then she will
have to overcome the deeply rooted existential fear of Israelis, which
peace-making evokes. Finally, she will have to take risks of substance,
facing down the Israeli war makers, standing up to settlers with their
implied threat of a divisive and bloody civil war.

Two years ago, Livni was the only Israeli cabinet member who spoke out
against launching an all-out war in Lebanon at a moment when a frenzy of
vengeance and nationalism gripped the entire nation.

Can we expect more such political and moral courage? Dare we be hopeful?

Or will it again be another good year for the undertaker?