If I Were Netanyahu's Friend

Instead of getting rid of the Feiglins, Netanyahu should embrace them and their extremist policies.

If I were Netanyahu's friend - say his strategic adviser Dr. Gabi Picker - this is what I'd tell him: Listen, Bibi. Unlike Ehud Barak, who could never get his act together after losing to Sharon, you do stand a chance, as chairman of the Likud (even in its current shrunken state), of making a comeback. Sharon is fat, and he's not so young anymore. If, God forbid, something happened that kept him from performing his duties, you could return to power. Any way you look at it, you're 20 years younger than him. This is your opportunity. You will never have a third chance. So the first thing you need to do is quit the monkey business. Don't walk into meetings late. Don't forget to pay your restaurant bills, or any movers you hire to move your furniture. Don't make enemies. Don't undermine your superiors or trample your subordinates.

Another thing I'd say, if I were Dr. Picker, is don't be a smart alek. Don't get to the point where an Israeli prime minister accuses you of wrecking the Likud, and warns that you could destroy the state, as Yitzhak Shamir once said about you. Don't be a demagogue and rabble-rouser. Don't provoke your opponents or make enemies among the elite. Don't sow hatred. Don't make snide comments insinuating that the left has forgotten what it's like to be Jews. These people founded the state, if you don't mind. And most importantly, don't dance a jig when bad things happen. You know better anyone that Qassem rockets are not a threat to Israel's survival, and the only way of stopping them is to reach an agreement. Stirring up hatred and calling for revenge fits our enemies, not us.

Convince me why I should vote for you, as leader of a screwed up Likud, as opposed to Kadima led by Sharon? - this virtual friend would say. What tidings do you have for the public? Show me your political calling card. What are you for? The status quo? Will you reoccupy Gaza? Will you bring back the dream of a Greater Israel that Sharon stashed away in the deep freeze?

Arafat is dead. Even the Palestinians have forgotten him. So who will you fight? Abu Mazen, an old political moderate backed by America who wants an agreement as much as Sharon but is too weak? That slogan of yours - "If they give, they'll get" - is so "over." The public needs to hear what you have to offer. What's the matter? The road map and unilateral initiatives aren't good enough for you?

It's hard to forget a leader whose downfall was so honestly earned, a leader who capped it all by shirking his responsibility and flying off to foreign pastures to earn a quick buck. Your return to the Sharon administration was a sign of political maturity, if not a change of character. As a finance minister, you showed great talent. But you hurried to undermine Sharon's political about-face when he opted for painful concessions, an end to the occupation, and the establishment of a Palestinian state. You chose to hit below the belt. Instead of quitting the government, you stayed on, working against him from within. You even tried to topple him with a dirty putsch trick. In the end, you voted for the disengagement and allowed it to happen. Then, at the most inconvenient time for the prime minister, you walked out on him.

But there's one thing you forgot, this friend would say: Sharon doesn't panic like you do. When it comes to tactics and staying cool, the man has no equal. He left you the Likud, but first he emptied it out. He left you the dregs - the rebels, the fanatics, the Feiglins and the bribe-takers. Within a few weeks, he founded a movement that will win the elections by a landslide and leave the old Likud trailing behind.

In a Dahaf opinion poll published this week in Yedioth Ahronoth, Sharon raked in triple the votes that Netanyahu did in every possible sphere. Only on one question - "Which of the two is less honest?" - did Netanyahu come out ahead. That Mina Tsemach has a sense of humor.

At this point, the friend would say: You're trying to imitate Sharon and pretend the Likud is a center party with clean hands and no Feiglins. This is not the real world. Most of the extremists and shady characters have stayed with you, and they regard you as their genuine representative. So my advice to you is not to imitate Sharon. Go the other way. In a country eager for an agreement that is willing to pull down settlements with the hope of reaching a permanent accord, there is always room for one extremist party. You're right for them, and they're right for you. So Bibi, my friend, just stay where you are.