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
“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  budget, and advancing the
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
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
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
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
The writer is a former Knesset employee.