On Saturday night President Shimon Peres assigned the task of forming Israel’s 33rd Government to Binyamin Netanyahu for the third time.

Though we shall probably never know, we may assume Peres could not avoid reminiscing about the third time he was assigned the task, back in March 1990, after he managed to bring down Shamir’s government in a vote of no confidence – an assignment that ended up in a fiasco, and no government. In Netanyahu’s case a new government will certainly result, though it will be several weeks before we know exactly what shape it will take.

Perhaps there are those who still believe Netanyahu is a king, a magician, and a son-of-a-gun, but the truth is that he enters upon the task of forming his new government somewhat battered, giving the impression he has passed his prime.

Half a year after he became prime minister of Israel’s 32nd government, Netanyahu turned 60, and has since become the grandfather of two boys – the sons of his haredi daughter (from his first wife) Noa. None of this appears to have softened up his image or demeanor.

“A strong leader for a strong people” was his slogan in the course of the recent election campaign. Not very convincing, according to the results, and not surprisingly so.

Though Netanyahu tries to appear full of bravado, the impression one gets is of a man who speaks on various issues with great determination and apparent foresight, but then frequently does nothing to follow up on what he has said. This might result from the fact that he panics easily, though the main explanation appears to be that for Netanyahu, oration is a goal in itself.

Of course, I am not saying that Netanyahu has no achievements to his credit beyond convincing millions of Israelis that at the moment there is no one around to replace him (thanks to the two Ehuds – Barak and Olmert – screwing up in their respective ways).

He was an effective finance minister a decade ago, he managed to keep his second incoherent government together for a full term, and though he managed to isolate Israel in the international arena to an unprecedented extent, Israel is relatively strong militarily and economically, and has certainly taken a few steps forward in terms of developing its infrastructure.

However, none of this can make up for a lot of empty rhetoric, such as the famous (or infamous) Bar-Ilan speech in which he claimed to accept the two-state solution with the Palestinians, or his speech in the first meeting of the national unity government he formed with Kadima on May 13, 2012, in which he stated that: “We have set four central goals for the government – a change of the Tal Law, a change in the system of government, passing the [2013] budget, and advancing the peace process.”

I would say that this modus operandi is very convenient for his so called “natural partners” – the haredi parties, and those to his Right. They listen to what he says with relative equanimity, knowing that they have nothing to fear since it is nothing but talk. It is more worrying for potential partners to his Left, and Kadima’s experience is a warning light.

Will Yesh Atid manage to break this routine and force Netanyahu to take a new course? I am skeptical. In the first place, Yair Lapid made his first major boo-boo when, in answer to a question posed by Ilana Dayan in an interview on TV Channel 2 about whether he planned to run for prime minister in the next elections, and whether he thought he would succeed, he arrogantly answered, in a self-assured voice: “I guess so.”

Certainly Netanyahu is aware of who will challenge his leadership in future – Gideon Sa’ar and Gilad Erdan from within the Likud, and Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid from outside. But to blatantly and arrogantly wave this threat before Netanyahu’s eyes just as you are about to start tough negotiations with him on the formation of what hopefully will be an earth-breaking government, is dumb, and might finally result in Yesh Atid actually being left out of the new coalition altogether.

Should this happen – and it could happen if Netanyahu decides to form a government with his “natural partners” plus Kadima and The Tzipi Livni Party – there goes any hope of our getting a government with no more than 18 ministers (thus leaving another 20 MKs free to help make the Knesset’s work more effective) which will effectively change the status quo with the haredim, do something about the scandalous budgetary deficit (and hopefully throw out the idea of the biennial budget as a permanent feature in our fiscal policy, after it enabled the scandal to occur by putting budget oversight to sleep), stop the erosion of the middle class, and at least make convincing noises about the government’s interest in advancing the peace process.

Every once in a while I dare hope that Netanyahu will change his modus operandi, and thus surprise me positively. If only he could stop worrying about what will happen after the next general elections, set goals that he sincerely wants to advance and take all the necessary steps to realize them, even at the risk of losing the next elections, he might actually justify those who call him king, magician and son-of-a-gun.

If he could only act as if this were his last term as prime minister, and as if history will judge him based on his achievements this term, this might not prove to be his last term.

Netanyahu is undoubtedly a capable man, and if he only stopped letting the Netanyahu in him get the better of him.

The writer is a former Knesset employee.

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