Benjamin Netanyahu, the former finance minister - excuse me, former prime minister - will announce his candidacy for prime minister today. Why now? It's pretty obvious. The way he sees it, now is the perfect time to hitch a ride on the winds of revenge blowing on the far right following the disengagement.
What we can't tell is whether he'll change his mind at the last minute. As an opportunist with acute narcissistic tendencies, anything is possible. When the Barak administration fell apart, who should pop up but Netanyahu. After walking out on his party, commitments and all - or as a senior Likudnik put it, "leaving us in deep shit and running off to make a buck" - he suddenly declared he was back in the race. Then, as quickly as he stepped up to the mike, he stepped down again, when he found that he would have to contend against Sharon in direct elections. Now he claims to have learned from his mistakes. He says he's changed.
Netanyahu was voted into office after the assassination of Rabin, the victim of an incitement campaign in which Bibi himself was one of the stars. He turned out to be a miserable failure. Even with Chabad in the cheering section shouting "Bibi is good for the Jews," the two-term government he promised fizzled out in three years. In his inauguration speech, Netanyahu pledged to bring true peace. He even appealed directly to the Palestinian Authority - talk is something he's good at - and declared his willingness to be partners and establish good neighborly relations.
What he did in practice was bury the Oslo Accords, prompt a bloodbath by opening the Western Wall tunnel ("the bedrock of our existence"), return Sheikh Yassin to Gaza, and strengthen Hamas. Despite the concessions he was forced to make in Hebron and his warm handshake with Arafat, he never kept a single word of his I-will-bring-peace speech. With all his bragging to the contrary, terror struck hundreds of times in his day (including the bombings at Cafe Apropos and Jerusalem's Mahane Yehuda market).
Another black mark on Netanyahu's performance was his attempt to incite Congress against the president. Why he was so anxious to tangle with the U.S. administration is hard to say, but things reached the point where the Americans were calling him a hopeless liar. In the end, Bill Clinton refused to meet with him or even speak to him on the phone. But Bibi won souls with his talks to reporters. He had learned his lesson, he said. He was a changed man.
Netanyahu's election slogan - "A Strong Leader for a Strong Nation" - was right about the nation but wrong about the leader. As a leader, he was weak and problematic. His governing style got him mixed up in the attorney general scandal, whereby an attempt was made to appoint "one of the guys." He escaped by the skin of his teeth, thanks to the Talmudic hairsplitting of Elyakim Rubinstein.
With his swagger, he soured relations between Labor and the Mizrahim, and between the haves (whom he padded nicely in his current tenure as finance minister) and the have-nots, whose rancor toward the Ma'arach, the precursor of Labor, has been around since way back when. He sowed hatred between religious groups and fanned the flames of ethnic discord.
Remember how he whispered into Rabbi Kadouri's ear that "those lefties aren't Jews"? Friendship, honesty, truth, ethical behavior - he trampled on them all. Yitzhak Shamir called him an "angel of destruction." David Magen called him a "political accident." Instead of promoting national solidarity, the king of the marketplace sicced people on one another. But Netanyahu insists he has changed, and expects the public to have faith in him.
Netanyahu's biggest problem as prime minister was his character. He was spineless, opportunistic, quick to panic (remember the tape affair?), unable to withstand pressure, incapable of separating the wheat from the chaff.
It's a fact. He voted in favor of the disengagement in the Knesset after his putsch attempt failed. With all his opposition to the initiative, he became a full partner to it by dint of the principle of collective responsibility. He didn't quit the government and lead a fight against it. He walked out the door only after everything was signed and sealed. That way, apparently, he could hitch a ride on the anger of the hawks, and head the campaign against any pullout on the West Bank.
For Netanyahu, style and showmanship is all. How he plans to stand up to the world, which is starting to show sympathy and admiration for Israel, is unclear. How does he think he will win the hearts of the voting public when most Israelis are in favor of concessions in exchange for peace? With his famous quip "if they give, they get?"
Netanyahu may have learned something, but so has the public. One of the important lessons is that character doesn't change. Now, more than ever, Bibi is bad for the Jews.
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