There tend to be two kinds of politicians.
Some are great orators who
know how to persuade people with grand speeches that sweep them off their
Others do their best work in personal meetings with individuals and
small groups, knowing how to win them over by making them feel
Politicians who can do both are rare in any country.
best examples in this era of the first category are presidents Barack Obama and
Ronald Reagan in the US and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu here. They all
delivered speeches with an air of confidence and catchy lines that immediately
became part of history.
It can be debated which president falls into the
second category in the US. In Israel, we have former prime minister Ariel
Sharon, who hated speaking in public. When he was finally persuaded to deliver a
live address to the nation, he was caught on camera saying at the end: “Nu. Is
it over yet?” But in closed-door meetings, foreign dignitaries and people who
worked with Sharon described him as having the magic touch. They said people
would come in to his office ready to fight him and would leave persuaded by his
Sharon kept a reporter’s notebook in his back pocket and would
write down ideas he heard from people he met with, no matter who they were,
which made them feel honored. Because his views changed so much over the course
of his political career, everyone strongly disagreed with him at some point, yet
even his fiercest opponents liked him personally.
Netanyahu, by contrast,
has the reputation of a politician who does not come across as well in personal
meetings as he does in speeches to Congress or to the United Nations. At least
that was his reputation in his first term in office, from 1996 to
During that term, Netanyahu had trouble getting along with his
ministers, many of whom were fired or quit due to disputes that were more
personal than political. In three years, he had three finance ministers, two
foreign ministers and two defense ministers.
In this term, the only three
ministers who left quit when Defense Minister Ehud Barak split the Labor Party.
No faction as a whole has left the coalition, and Netanyahu has not had to fire
In his three years and three months in office, the closest
Netanyahu has come to that was in this week’s crisis over Beit El’s Ulpana
Science and Technology Minister Daniel Hershkowitz (Habayit
Hayehudi), Public Diplomacy Minister Yuli Edelstein (Likud), and three Likud
deputy ministers were ready to be fired over their vote on a controversial
outpost bill at the Knesset on Wednesday that could have saved the five
buildings of the Ulpana neighborhood. Had Hershkowitz resigned, he would have
taken his faction with him out of the coalition.
In the end, all five
politicians folded, none of them participated in the vote, and they all kept
When asked how Netanyahu emerged unscathed from yet another
potential political crisis, a close adviser compared him to the Road Runner
cartoon character, who always managed to avoid the clutches and the anvils of
his nemesis, Wile E. Coyote.
The adviser noted that the only words the
Road Runner ever uttered were “Beep-beep,” which sounds a lot like
But when asked for a more serious answer, the adviser noted that
Netanyahu learned from his troubled first administration the importance of
investing time in developing relationships with people, especially his
ministers. He learned that such investments pay off in times of
That’s what happened this week.
Netanyahu knew that the
issue of the Ulpana outpost was a political minefield. He knew that if he played his cards wrong, key Likud ministers could quit, as could multiple
So Netanyahu defused the situation step by step. First he met
with Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar and Environment Minister Gilad Erdan, who
are both lawyers. They helped him figure out what his legal options were with
regard to the outpost and what alternatives could be offered to compensate the
settlers for losing the battle over the Ulpana.
Sa’ar and Vice Premier
Moshe Ya’alon came to Netanyahu’s side in Monday’s Likud faction meeting in
which the prime minister came out strongly against the outpost bill and warned
of its consequences for Israel internationally. Their political backing gave
Netanyahu the support he needed to persuade wavering Likud ministers not to join
All along, Netanyahu was in contact with Foreign Minister
Avigdor Liberman and Shas chairman Eli Yishai to make sure their factions stayed
out of the fight. In a situation that would have sounded absurd in the past,
Netanyahu thanked Liberman for having a moderating presence on his
The hardest nuts to crack were Edelstein, the only Likud
minister who lives in Judea and Samaria, and Herschkowitz, who is facing a
leadership primary in Habayit Hayehudi.
Netanyahu met with Herschkowitz
at the Prime Minister’s Office for two hours on Monday and another two hours on
He met with Edelstein Tuesday afternoon for an hour and a
Edelstein was determined to vote for the bill even if it meant
getting fired. He earned a reputation for being stubborn when he stayed an extra
year in a Siberian prison for refusing to admit to false charges of drug
To persuade Edelstein and Herschkowitz to end their
rebellion, Netanyahu agreed to remove Barak from the ministerial committee on
settlements, something the settlers had been requesting for three
Netanyahu will head the committee in Barak’s stead, and
Herschkowitz will be Netanyahu’s deputy chairman.
Netanyahu also asked
Edelstein to mediate between him and the Ulpana settlers in order to avoid a
violent evacuation. He made Edelstein and Herschkowitz feel that they were
needed in the government and could have a real impact by remaining
Meanwhile, Edelstein and Herschkowitz tried to persuade
settler leaders to get MKs Ya’acov Katz (National Union) and Zevulun Orlev
(Habayit Hayehudi) to put off the vote on the bill that they were certain to
lose. Katz agreed to put it off by a week but Orlev would not.
bills been delayed, Edelstein and Herschkowitz would have looked like brave
knights who fought for their constituency without getting fired. But Orlev, who
is running against Herschkowitz in the Habayit Hayehudi race, refused to give
him that pleasure.
Much of the crisis over the Ulpana was manufactured by
Orlev in order to force Herschkowitz to quit. That way, the race would be MK vs
MK instead of MK vs minister.
Even after Orlev lost the vote in a
landslide, he said he would push for his party to leave the coalition. The
problem is that because Habayit Hayehudi lacks institutions, only its Knesset
faction has the authority to decide to leave the coalition.
Hayehudi has three MKs. Orlev is on one side, Herschkowitz on the
The third MK who would cast the deciding vote is Uri Orbach, who
is hospitalized with a severe illness and is not expected to be able to function
politically any time soon.
Habayit Hayehudi’s primary got delayed last
week from September to November.
That will give Orlev more time to flex
his political muscles and try to cause problems for Herschkowitz and
The Netanyahu of his first term knew how to give great
speeches but he would have had difficulty dealing with political troublemakers
like Orlev. The Netanyahu of today has learned how to handle much bigger