The last thing you want to be in Israel right now is a newspaper editor. You go to sleep with a smile on your face, happy about your next day's editorial -- "Bibi's Election Move: Brilliant or Stinking?"
Then you wake up in the morning and find out that during the night, the same prime minister who had just called for early elections, made a U-turn and, in the wildest political flip-flop in Israel's history, reversed his decision and brought into the government the same opposition leader who had sworn to topple him.
Explaining Israeli politics to an American audience is difficult enough even without this recent show of acrobatics. I'm not trying to simplify American politics, and I still wonder how the Electoral College system works, because in 2000 Al Gore won the popular vote but George W. Bush won more electoral votes and eventually became president. But let's leave these constitutional obscurities aside.
What matters is that when they go to the ballots, Americans either elect a Republican or a Democrat to become president. The winner governs the country for a full four years while the loser goes home to write his memoirs. In the House of Representatives the losing party checks and balances the administration while regrouping for a comeback with a new candidate.
Not so in Israel. In my country, losers always stay in the arena, hoping for a second chance. Take President Shimon Peres, for example, by far the most respected public figure in Israel today. Despite the fact that in his almost six decades of political experience, in election after election, he never succeeded in being elected prime minister: He either had to share the position with Yitzhak Shamir between 1984-88 or, tragically, replace the assassinated Yitzhak Rabin in 1995.
Ehud Barak is another example. In 2000 he was ousted as prime minister, after one of the shortest terms ever in Israel. He seemed to have retired from politics only to pop up again later, leading the venerable Labor party, which had established the state of Israel, to its lowest ebb: 13 seats in the Knesset, out of 120. This didn't stop him from joining the government of Benjamin Netanyahu as defense minister, although Netanyahu's party, Likud, stood for everything Labor voters opposed.
If this was not enough, in 2011, when true Laborites started grunting against sitting in such a government, Barak broke away together with four other Knesset members and formed a new party. Polls indicate that if that party ran in elections today, nobody would vote for it.
So much for adhering to what the electorate wants. Yet it seems that Shaul Mofaz, leader of the Kadima opposition party, broke a record this week when, in a "dramatic" late-night meeting with Netanyahu, he crossed the lines and joined the government.
Zigzagging is not new to Mofaz. In 2005, when Ariel Sharon broke away from the Likud to form the Kadima Party, Mofaz made a memorable speech: "You don't leave a home." The following day, when he realized that he would be better off in the new party, he defected without blinking. Recently he campaigned against Tzipi Livni, the ex-leader of Kadima, scolding her for being too soft on Netanyahu. He succeeded in replacing her, and a month ago, in his first speech as opposition leader, he attacked Netanyahu's government with venom, calling it "arrogant, condescending, pitiless," and vowing that "the people will not vote for them again." He even became personal, calling Netanyahu "a liar."
Come Monday night, and all this miraculously evaporates. The two former enemies shook hands warmly in front of the cameras, congratulating each other on the deal they had just cut, and then went on with business as usual. Kadima Knesset members, who knew nothing about the nightly plot, couldn't hide their happy smiles: According to the polls, half of them would have been jobless had elections occurred today. It is the Israeli citizens, though, who were left perplexed.
The only way not to give in entirely to cynicism and not to lose hope in the Israeli political system is to try to believe that there is a higher cause here which makes this meshigas (craziness in Yiddish) a worthy one. Iran? But how? United for an attack or against it? Nobody knows. Two-state solution? But with whom? With Netanyahu? With the ever-growing settlements? Or maybe putting an end to the unfair situation, whereby some of us serve in the military, risking our lives, and some don't. There is talk now that by the end of July, these two new partners will pass legislation about it. Perhaps this is something worth waiting for.
Back to our newspaper editor. Come to think of it, maybe he wasn't so much off target, after all. At least as far as the headline is concerned, and anyway, many people pay more attention to headlines than to the story itself. "Bibi's Election Move: Brilliant or Stinking?" is still a valid headline, even if the elections were cancelled. Only time will tell which is right. I have my own guess, but for the time being I'm keeping it to myself.
Uri Dromi writes about Israeli affairs for The Miami Herald.