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Israeli Politicians

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Europe's attitude to the two belligerents, Jews and Arabs, is constantly undergoing subtle changes and the motives for either amelioration or deterioration can be quite complex. They may be the result of either internal shifts of public opinion or differentiated reactions to events and incidents in the region. Today without a doubt Germany is Israel's most faithful supporter in Europe. Frau Merkel's initiative to hold regular inter-State Cabinet meetings, where a group of six German and six Israeli Ministers, including the two heads of government, have free and frank discussions ranging from defense, peace chances, trade openings to climate change and tourism.

The long-standing observer of the Israeli political scene, and especially the changing parade of political leaders, is aware how complicated the judgment of public opinion of its own elite can be. The man in the street might admire certain qualities in a political figure and yet deny him or her their confidence and right to rule.

For instance State President Shimon Peres, last survivor of the founder generation, is today the most popular politician because of his moderate views, rhetorical skill, yet he has never succeeded in being elected head of government -- when he did occupy that position on several occasions it was only due to certain Cabinet changes.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu remains an enigma to many people. As a tribune of the people and brilliant orator he was the first who, decades ago, warned Israel and the world of the perils of worldwide Islamic terrorism. As a talented economist, planner and Finance Minister he succeeded, but his true ambition was to be the savior of the fatherland. His enemies paint him in dark colors as an extremist, yet in reality he was often prepared to compromise and might perhaps, just as Menachem Begin before him, prove to be the great conciliator and peacemaker.

Politically to the Right of Netanyahu lurks Avigdor Lieberman, now Foreign Minister, recent immigrant from Moldova, a man of action imbued with politically radical views. He would prefer as one of the items of a final settlement the cession of a certain territory with more than 250,000 Arabs -- cession of land and people -- to a future Palestinian State. This may sound radical but it certainly is not Apartheid.

The highly cultivated and politically moderate Vice-Premiere Dan Meridor, whose competence covers the secret services, who is also part of the Likud bloc, has moved to the political Centre and has many qualities for a suitable leader, but what he lacks, according to friend and foe, is the determination and iron will for power.

Part of this coalition Government in Jerusalem is also the recently shrunk Labour party, which under the leadership of the unforgettable David Ben-Gurion dominated the State for decades. Here the coming man seems to be the young Isaac Herzog. As Minister for Social Affairs (a particularly important Department of the State) he belongs to Israel's elite. His grandfather was Chief Rabbi of Ireland and then became the first head of the Rabbinate in Israel and peacemaker among the warring underground movements, helping to forge them into one united army. Isaac's father Chaim (Vivian) Herzog, fought in the Scottish Guards in World War II and happened to have been the officer in charge of the arrest of the fugitive Heinrich Himmler. Chaim Herzog proved to be a particularly successful and beloved State President. I had the privilege of escorting him on his first official State visit to Germany.

The enigmatic figure of Ehud Barak, who now leads the Labour party but is somehow regarded as a loner, might well be fated to play a decisive role in any future peace process. After the unhappy military campaign against Hezbollah three years ago, when Ehud Olmert was still Prime Minister, the public mood improved dramatically when Barak became Commander-in-Chief of the Israeli armed forces, and as such he has everyone's full confidence. He is held to be a military genius, but in civilian life he is regarded as a rather self-centred man, awkward in his contact with colleagues and exposed to petty reproaches about his high standard of living, which he earned for himself during his years in the political wilderness.

The leading figure on the Opposition benches of the Kadima party is a woman: Tzipi Livni, attractive and statuesque lawyer, comes from the milieu of the Right-wing underground movement of the pre-State period, though she now is politically in the moderate Centre. She fights for a two State solution and instant resumption of peace negotiations. As Foreign Minister she won the confidence and even close friendship of major players on the political world stage. Her party won narrowly in the last election but she failed to form a coalition government, and this for a significant reason: she refused to yield to small splinter groups, but mainly the religious bloc, by not promising ministerial jobs and special budgets. But this was just what 'Bibi' Netanyahu did, with apparent ease. Livni refused to join his government except on condition that she and he might swap jobs after two years; on his refusal she led her party into Opposition. Since then she fights not only against the smooth and subtle Netanyahu but also competitors in her own party and the danger of a lethal split of the Kadima faction. Quite recently Netanyahu again offered her a place in his Government but this time no ministerial department, only membership of an important Security Committee. Tzipi Livni's final refusal quite clearly means that she now has to prove herself as an effective leader of the Opposition and a viable victor in a new election.

The Iraq crisis, the events in Gaza and the West Bank and the now quite plausible resumption of negotiations with Israel's neighbors, all require a national government from wall to wall of the Knesset. The ideal solution in the eyes of Israel's friends would be a national government such as existed during the Six Day War in 1967, where the important parties and the most outstanding political leaders united and succeeded triumphantly in ensuring the country's survival.