Things Bibi sees from here

Has Netanyahu’s perspective changed? What has made him a wiser leader than he was before? Perhaps he took a cue from his predecessor, Ariel Sharon.

Palestinian flag Abbas speech_311 (photo credit: Reuters)
Palestinian flag Abbas speech_311
(photo credit: Reuters)
There is a sweet Israeli song, written and performed by Yehudit Ravitz. In one of her lyrics, she sings, “Things you see from here, you don’t see from there.”
Former prime minister Ariel Sharon used just that phrase in one of the first speeches he gave after he was elected in 2001. Many wondered what he meant by it.
But the meaning was finally understood when Sharon, a veteran of the settlement effort and the “living bulldozer” who had relentlessly built scores of settlements in the West Bank and Gaza, suddenly changed course and decided to pull out of the Gaza Strip. By quoting Ravitz’s verse, he was simply telling us that, from his position as prime minister, things no longer looked the way they had when he was leader of the opposition.
The political reality dictated to the erstwhile settlement hawk to uproot the very settlements he had built and embrace a policy that even the most leftist governments had not dared to adopt.
Something similar is happening to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. Reality takes its toll. While when he was in the opposition, he stubbornly objected to the pullout from Gaza and did not follow at Sharon’s heels when the latter formed Kadima. He stayed in Likud and because of opposition leader Tzipi Livni’s stubborn refusal to join his cabinet, became the leader of an extreme rightwing government.
Yet, a few months into his term, he made a speech at Bar Ilan University in which he made history as being the first Likud leader to accept a two-state solution. Several months later, he decided to freeze settlement construction for ten months - a move nobody before him had even dreamed of.
The leftwing parties either ignored or ridiculed Netanyahu’s moves and happily labelled him as an enemy of peace. The prophets of gloom and doom predicted a terrible clash between Israel and the US due to his intransigence. But in his speech at the joint session of the United States Congress in May this year, he made two remarks which constituted a departure from traditional Likud positions.
First, while reaffirming his commitment to a unified Jerusalem, he admitted that “with creativity and good will, a solution can be found” to the Jerusalem problem. Second, he agreed that when peace with the Palestinians is achieved, “some settlements will end up beyond Israel’s borders.”
A few months later, when Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas submitted his demand to the UN that Palestine be recognized as a sovereign nation, the Quartet (UN, US, EU and Russia) presented a counter plan: The immediate resumption of negotiations without preconditions between Israel and the Palestinians, with a deadline for an agreement set at one year from now.
Abbas said no. Netanyahu said yes.
The events at the UN occured at the end of a turbulent summer in Israel in which a generation of frustrated youth demanded social justice. Similar protests, though more limited in scope, had taken place during Netanyahu’s tenure as finance minister in Ariel Sharon’s cabinet.
When Sharon was elected prime minister, Israel’s economy was on the verge of collapse, but Netanyahu succeeded in stabilizing it in the 90th hour. But at what price? The measures taken by the then-finance minister badly harmed the lower-income classes, to the point that President Shimon Peres accused the government of “swine capitalism.”
Where was this Netanyahu last summer, when the protesters demanded much larger reforms and expenditures? He did not ignore the protesters as many European and American leaders have done when faced with similar problems. He immediately appointed the Trajtenberg Committee with a promise to adopt the findings in its report.
Yet still, the prophets of gloom and doom are doubled over laughing, labelling the Trajtenberg committee as “whitewash.” When Professor Manuel Trajtenberg presented his report to the prime minister, Netanyahu staunchly and stubbornly fought his opponents inside the cabinet until it was officially adopted.
Finally, a few days ago, the prime minister didn’t hesitate in changing course in his approach to the Gilad Schalit affair, accepting a swap of 1,027 Palestinian terrorists for the imprisoned Israeli soldier.
Did Bibi change? Can Bibi see something that he couldn’t see before? The Bible says that “a leopard cannot change its spots,” but the Bible also says that age and experience make people wiser.
The writer is a former Labor Party MK and the official biographer of David Ben-Gurion and Shimon Peres.