Politics: Premier lessons

A 12-step plan for Binyamin Netanyahu - the man who, in spite of the latest hoopla, may still become prime minister again.

The last time the Israeli media focused its attention on the Likud and a hotel was when the Sheraton City Tower controversy broke out in December 2002. The scandal involved rooms reserved at the fancy Ramat Gan hotel by then-MK Nomi Blumenthal for Likud central committee members on the eve of the election for slots on the party's Knesset slate. The immediate effect of the incident was that a cloud of corruption hovered over the Likud in general and its central committee in particular. The long-term ramifications of the scandal were negative for the central committee, which lost its power to select the Likud's MKs, and for Blumenthal, who is currently completing her community service for her conviction and whose reputation was irrevocably harmed. But the end result for the Likud was positive: The scandal was forgotten amid the celebrations when the party doubled its power to 38 Knesset members in the general election two months later. The reason the Likud overcame the hullabaloo and emerged strengthened was that its chairman, Ariel Sharon, was made of political Teflon and no scandal during his premiership stuck to him. Current Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu, by contrast, seems to be made of rubber cement. Everything sticks to him, whether it is a serious scandal or this past week's controversy over the NIS 131,000 spent on his week-long public relations trip to London during the Second Lebanon War. The divergent reactions from outraged, socioeconomically-challenged Likud voters and Londoners who don't understand what all the fuss is about have already been discussed ad nauseam. So has the impression of panicking that Netanyahu created by rushing to issue a libel lawsuit and by changing the location of the speech he made to respond to the charges four times. Now that the story has come and gone, the question that remains is how Netanyahu can avoid similar pitfalls in the future. He knows that the next election will not be called before the October holidays are over and will not be held before February at the earliest. THE KNESSET House Committee's decision on Tuesday to lengthen the parliament's next two vacations reinforced that impression. That gives Netanyahu's opponents in politics and the press almost a year to come up with new dirt on him. Even if they succeed, chances are he will still win the next election. A Teleseker poll taken at the height of the scandal found that the Likud only lost two seats - from 32 to 30 - and would still trounce Labor and Kadima. But prospective scandals could erode enough support from the Likud to lose the blocking majority the Right currently enjoys in the polls, forcing Netanyahu to compromise with the Left when he awards portfolios and sets the diplomatic policies of his government. In other words, key questions about Israel's long-term security and prospects for peace could be decided by how Netanyahu weathers the inevitable uncomplimentary headlines ahead. The sages of the Knesset cafeteria made the following 12 suggestions to help Netanyahu walk between the raindrops through the political storms of the year ahead: 1. Silence is golden. Notice how Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has not given interviews to the Hebrew press since last Independence Day. The less politicians speak, the fewer mistakes they make and the less they regret saying. The foreign press - and The Jerusalem Post - is an exception to that, because of the role they play in the international battlefield of ideas. 2. Patience is paramount. Many outrageous headlines create sympathy for the victim, but sometimes it takes time for a boomerang to return. If you try to force it, you will only get in the way and any chance for a boomerang effect will be lost. 3. Don't turn a pothole into a bottomless pit. The next time a controversial headline is published, issue an immediate denial via reporters‚ beepers or text messages and move on. Netanyahu's office has not bothered refuting some damaging headlines lately. Everything not denied is assumed to be true. 4. Be modest. Never say "I told you so," because it makes people resent you for being right instead of appreciating you for it. Netanyahu's support rose during the Second Lebanon War when his dire predictions about Hamas and Hizbullah came true, but bragging that he saw it coming -as Netanyahu did on September 11, 2001 - did not help him win new supporters. 5. Act modestly. When British Jews bring in a former prime minister to speak, they insist he stay in a suite at a posh hotel. But a leader of a party that represents the Israeli underclass cannot get away with that, even if US President George W. Bush can get away with reserving the entire King David Hotel for a week before he arrived. 6. Leave your wife at home. Nothing can be worse for Netanyahu than Sara making more headlines. 7. Hire a new chief of staff. Netanyahu's bureau chief Ari Harow is doing a great job, but he's doing the work of three men. Replace Naftali Bennett, who quit last month, with another hi-tech millionaire or perhaps a former top IDF officer. 8. Hire a new spokesman. When multiple media outlets boycott your spokesman and others avoid him, chances are there is something wrong. 9. Out your enemies. Netanyahu alleged that someone conspired with the press on the latest embarrassing headlines. Such charges can't be made without eventually substantiating them. 10. Bring in Bogey. Netanyahu has been hinting for two years that top generals, businessmen and professors would be joining the Likud. Where are they? If former IDF chief of general staff Moshe Ya'alon wants to run with the party, he has to enter politics now. 11. Release more position papers. Netanyahu promised that he would devise new platforms on several issues, but he stopped after education. It makes a politician look substantial at a time when parties lack agendas on key issues. 12. Tour the country. It makes a politician look like a man of the people and creates an atmosphere that the public is eager for an election. Why wait for a campaign?