Chasing Ben-Gurion

How does Binyamin Netanyahu wish to be remembered in history?

Netanyahu and Ben-Gurion (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST,REUTERS)
Netanyahu and Ben-Gurion
The much publicized tussle between Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Economy Minister Naftali Bennett gave us the impression that there was a real, genuine argument as we approach a dramatic decision to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
All the political signs, however, indicate that this is not the case. If anything, the opposite may be true. The personal, vindictive battle between the prime minister and the man who once served as his bureau chief and who is now the head of a political party and a rival for the leadership of the right, is kind of a fun hobby for both men.
The real battle is over Netanyahu's legacy. What will he leave behind? How will his name be spoken of in the future? That means after he concludes his reign as prime minister, not before, and he has no intention of doing this anytime soon.
The feeling among leaders of the center-left, from Yair Lapid to Tzipi Livni to perhaps even Isaac Herzog, and business titans like Yossi Vardi and Ofra Strauss, is that Netanyahu is ripe for an about-face. They listen to him in closed conversations, hear him talk about his opposition to a bi-national state and the continued rule over the Palestinians. They hear these statements, and melt.
They must think to themselves that here's another right-wing leader, like Menachem Begin, Ariel Sharon, and Ehud Olmert before him, who has come all the way from "not an inch" to recognizing the need for partition. The anticipation is that Netanyahu is just about to make the jump – if only Mahmoud Abbas would just be willing to catch him so he doesn't fall.
This is the expectation that is keeping this coalition together. That is how Livni can explain remaining in a government in which some of its ministers attack the US administration and Secretary of State John Kerry.
That is how Lapid can explain his flexibility in allowing the curtailing of rights of homosexuals as well as the discussions with "his brothers" from Bayit Yehudi, who are forcing concessions from him over key issues he promised to his voters, like the separation from religion and state and civil marriage. They are waiting for Netanyahu to decide.
There is a chance, however, that the Netanyahu legacy will be an altogether different one. Netanyahu is not waiting to jump. He's not ready to take the leap. He's not built for big bangs. In the words of Sharon, Netanyahu is "an excellent explainer," and he explains to everyone what it is they want to hear.
The Netanyahu legacy will not be determined by what he is going to do, but by what he didn't do. According to this logic, we will have to look at the clock.
Netanyahu doesn't want to go down in the history books. He wants to go down in the Guinness Book of Records. If he stays in office for at least five more years, he will have surpassed David Ben-Gurion as the longest-serving premier in Israel's history. Call it an instinct for survival, a desire to rule, a wish to hold onto his job – it doesn't matter.
The numbers tell the whole story. In the history books that will be read by our grandchildren, Netanyahu will be out in front, and by a long shot. He's second to Ben-Gurion in terms of time served in office.
Perhaps Netanyahu's legacy can be measured in time but in an altogether different context. One of his close aides told me a number of times that Netanyahu is being tough in the negotiations and that he is in no hurry to make concessions. Look, he told me, he's been prime minister for five years and he hasn't conceded anything – despite the American pressure. He's paid the price of going head to head with Barack Obama. Still, Netanyahu did not concede.
This might be Netanyahu's real legacy. It's a right-wing legacy, a simple one. Netanyahu didn't come here to do backflips in the air, becoming a leader of the peace camp, and cross the Rubicon. His real legacy is that he stood up to international pressure and didn't concede.