It may be overshadowed at the moment by the vote that will be held here next week, but Israelis are now preparing for their own election this winter. The failure of Kadima Party leader Tzipi Livni to build a viable coalition in the Knesset has made it imperative to give Israelis the chance to change their leaders.
It's been less than three years since they last had the opportunity. In early 2006, Israelis voted Ehud Olmert and his Kadima Party into office after that party's founder, Ariel Sharon, suffered a stroke. But Olmert's unlikely path to the prime minister's chair was followed by an equally unlikely term in office. A disastrous war in Lebanon rendered him a lame duck within months of his election. Though he survived the clamor for his resignation over his conduct of the war, several ongoing corruption investigations eventually did him in.
Livni, who initially called for Olmert's ouster after the war, hung on to serve as his foreign minister and then won a narrow victory in a Kadima primary to become its leader. But she was unable to make enough patronage deals with Israel's influential religious and special-interest parties to revive the current coalition. She will now face stiff competition at the polls from her former coalition partner, Ehud Barak, and his Labor Party, as well as opposition Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu.
Yet no matter who wins the election, the outcome will be an improvement over the current situation, in which Olmert, a disgraced and overwhelmingly unpopular prime minister, has held onto power for the last two years. Either Livni, Barak or Netanyahu will provide Israel with a fresh start as the nation faces challenges from a global economic downturn, the stalemate with the Palestinians and the menace from a nuclear Iran.
Israel's campaign will start to heat up just as America's cools down. But that should not give anyone here the idea that it would be appropriate to intervene in the Israeli election in order to give one party an advantage over the others in the name of advancing peace. In the past, various American presidents have sought to meddle in Israeli politics, with mixed results. The first President Bush worked hard to defeat Yitzhak Shamir in 1992. Bill Clinton tried in vain to assist the election of Shimon Peres in 1996. In turn, some Israeli leaders have sought to influence American elections, with Yitzhak Rabin's backing for Richard Nixon being the most unfortunate such effort.
But just as Israelis should let Americans sort out our own politics, Americans should leave the choice of who to run their country to the Israelis. We may have strong opinions about which policies may be best for Israel. But the coming months ought to be a time to let Israelis debate and then decide their own fate.