Benjamin Netanyahu deserves a chance to lead Israel on the basis of his worldview and with the coalition he forms, with or without Tzipi Livni and Ehud Barak. Netanyahu is coming back to power a decade after he was toppled in elections, and not because the Israelis have fallen in love with his ideas and personality. His dream of bringing to Likud a large bloc of centrist votes, like Ariel Sharon did in 2003, did not happen. But in the 18th Knesset no coalition is possible without Likud.
Netanyahu deserves a chance because his return to power exemplifies the democratic game. There is no other candidate whose views, skills and weaknesses are better known to the public. After his 2006 defeat he did not "tend to his affairs at home." Instead, he waited, as a leader of the opposition, for the fall of Ehud Olmert. Netanyahu also excelled in political maneuvering when he cut a deal with Shas and prevented Livni from becoming prime minister after Olmert resigned.
Netanyahu deserves a chance because for years he has warned against an Iranian nuclear bomb, which he believes will pose the worst threat to Israel's existence ever. Netanyahu felt that some of his predecessors could have done more to curb the Iranian threat. Now he has been given that responsibility. He wants to convince Barack Obama that his presidency will be judged by the results of his dealings with Iran. Netanyahu will not oppose dialogue between the United States and Iran. During their meeting last summer he told Obama: "The target is more important than the method."
In Netanyahu's opinion, Obama will try to talk with the Iranians for two to three months, and will find out - as expected - that they are toying with him. Then he will turn to a more aggressive option. The United States has many ways to strike Iran, and Obama has greater legitimacy to use force than his predecessor, who was mixed up in Iraq. From Netanyahu's point of view, dealing with Iran is the key to progress in the diplomatic process. The depth of Israel's concessions in the territories will reflect the severity of the blow against Iran's nuclear program.
Netanyahu deserves a chance because he is convinced that he will work well with Obama, and even with Hillary Clinton. Netanyahu knows that Obama will ask him about his position on a two-state solution, and believes he can find a formula that will satisfy the president. But Netanyahu believes in reciprocity in foreign affairs and thinks there should be no give without take, not even among friends. He will ask Obama to evaluate him on the basis of his actions on the ground, instead of wasting time in ideological debates and humiliating him publicly for opposing peace. Netanyahu will argue that a Palestinian state is not currently on the agenda, and if a reliable Palestinian partner emerges, Likud has greater chances of reaching a lasting agreement with him than the left. Public pressure on Israel will achieve nothing and will only bolster a right-wing coalition behind Netanyahu that will oppose any concession.
On the same principle of reciprocity, Obama will also want something from Israel; it appears this will come in the form of a demand, more adamant than ever, for a freeze on settlements, including "natural growth," that Netanyahu promised during his election campaign. Such a demand will create a serious problem for a right-wing coalition dependent on settler parties. Here, too, Netanyahu will try the "quiet in return for action" method with Obama: Don't force me to turn my back on my ideological base and political partners, and trust me that conditions on the ground will improve. In any case, he will tell Obama, you have no better alternative.
Netanyahu deserves a chance because his authority and understanding in economics is greater than that of any other politician, and he must stand by his promise and soften the blow of the international recession in Israel. For this he needs Kadima in his coalition; it's easier to pass an economic program when the opposition is weak. Bibi needs Tzipi, not for peace, but for the economy, and he hopes the business community, who supported him when he was finance minister, will rally behind his setting up as broad a government as possible.
Netanyahu deserves a chance because he claims he has matured and learned to work with people and listen to them. He will be tested on the "conduct" that foiled him during his previous term, and above all on his ability to be a unifying leader and not upset large segments of the public and establishment. And if he fails this time, too, the parliamentary method will once more topple him from power.
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