Only six months ago, Kadima's leaders promised each other that the nightmare would be short. Between Ben Zion Netanyahu and Sara Netanyahu, they reckoned, Benjamin Netanyahu would be torn to pieces. Between Barack Obama and Ehud Barak, Bibi would not survive. Tzipi Livni would eat him from the outside and Tzipi Hotovely would devour him from within. Netanyahu would not be able to withstand the economic and political tsunami and collapse.
Stressed out, sweating and paralyzed he wouldn't be able to deliver any goods. Thus, within a few months, comeback-Bibi would be shattered and Kadima would again become Israel's ruling party. Power would be restored to those who were meant to rule - Eyal Arad, Reuven Adler, Naftali Spitzer.
However, five and a half months after Netanyahu presented his cabinet to the Knesset, the nightmare refuses to dissipate. The government is bloated, fat and gray, but still standing. The coalition is weird and convoluted, but functioning. Here and there Netanyahu does break a sweat, but he is surviving.
While Livni seeks consolation in the company of Madonna and Jesus, Bibi is thriving. While the U.S. president's wings melt, the Israeli prime minister is slowly growing his own. Day by day and week by week, Netanyahu is moving away from the demonic image that had been attached to him and is fortifying his status as the legitimate Israeli captain of this time.
Netanyahu's first achievement in his first half year in power is political. Unlike the old Bibi, the new Bibi is a skilled politician. Some tricks he picked up from Sharon, others from Olmert. But Netanyahu 2009 has something reminiscent of Levi Eshkol in his demeanor. He listens, consults and deliberates a lot. He is hesitant rather than decisive, free of arrogance. He is guided first and foremost by the search for agreement, unity and compromise.
This is why the administration he formed is not revisionist but Mapainik. A little tea and a little coffee, a little left and a little right. No trace of the radiant, complacent, confrontational Netanyahu of the '90s remains. Moderately and carefully, he has managed to maintain an impossible coalition, lead an awkward government and navigate through an international environment ridden with mines.
Netanyahu's second achievement is economic. Only a few months ago the headlines heralded impending disaster. Growth was negative, tax collection collapsing, unemployment soaring. The expected deficit was huge and Israel's credit rating was in real danger. Two quarters later, growth is rising, tax collection is increasing, the deficit is shrinking and Israel's international standing is strong and getting stronger.
This swift turnabout could not have occurred without a dramatic change in the world economic climate. But it also would not have occurred without Netanyahu and his finance minister Yuval Steinitz formulating a biennial budget, an economic plan and a package deal. Despite its zigzags and malfunctions, the Netanyahu- Steinitz economic leadership has proved itself.
Netanyahu's third achievement is diplomatic. Three months after being announced to the world, the Bar-Ilan formula is clearly working. It unites the Israelis in support of a sober, realistic two-state solution. It is bringing many in the West to support recognizing Israel as a Jewish state and demilitarizing the Palestinian state. It obliges the Palestinians to decide whether they want real peace or a step-by-step plan for the destruction of Israel.
Within a very short amount of time, Netanyahu has managed to redefine the peace process. Now it is clear to all that the burden of proof and contribution not only rests on Israel's shoulders, but also on the Palestinians, the Arab states and the international community. After Olmert and Livni gave everything without receiving anything, Netanyahu is conducting a reasonable, mature policy.
But these three achievements are not enough. Netanyahu's government still lacks the main thing - vision. It is still not clear where it is really heading. The asphalt, concrete and iron cloak with which the prime minister proposes to cover Israel is not a worthy national goal. The justice minister's attempts to sterilize the rule of law are dangerous. So having finished the stabilizing and braking stages of his term successfully, Netanyahu must ask himself what comes next. If he cannot offer Israelis a future of hope, the future may yet belong to Spitzer, Adler and Arad.
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