Yossi Verter / Netanyahu speech is Israeli spin at its worst
As coalition partners release brazen statements, PM will have to find way to have his cake and eat it too.
Before the speech was delivered, before the earth shook, before history changed its course, everything already looked like a farce. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's much-awaited speech is already looking like Israeli partisan spin at its worst.
The atmosphere is more akin to coalition talks than preparations for a breakthrough in regional peace negotiations.
Netanyahu has even been meeting the "intellectuals" who have become an indispensable part of Israeli politics. Not the ever-present Amos Oz or A.B. Yehoshua, but David Grossman and Eyal Megged. Why exactly were they invited to meet the prime minister? What do authors have to do with a diplomatic speech? Is Netanyahu seeking literary advice, or simply marking a check in the "intellectuals" box, right next to the "Likud faction" box?
This developing farce has already received kashrut certification, just before the start of Shabbat, when Welfare Minister Zevulun Orlev's voice hit the radio. The chairman of Habayit Hayehudi, who had just met with Netanyahu, gushed, "I left more encouraged than when I arrived."
Almost in the same breath, Orlev threatened that should Netanyahu dare signal any intention of forging peace with the Palestinians (or the world), his party would view the move as "crossing its red lines."
What high drama! A peripheral party with three Knesset seats, which took a severe beating in the last election and was almost wiped from the political map, is issuing ultimatums to the prime minister. It's like the joke about the mouse and the elephant.
Or take Eli Yishai, the interior minister from Shas, who after meeting Netanyahu on Friday declared, "We must avoid a confrontation with the Americans, but we must also preserve our principles." In other words, we must build with abandon in the settlements while opposing any peace initiative, as Shas has done for the past decade.
It was hard to find any lawmakers Saturday night - from the right or the left - who thought Netanyahu would make a groundbreaking address tonight that rivals those of Ariel Sharon on the Gaza disengagement, or Olmert's remarks at Sde Boker that Israel was willing to evacuate West Bank settlements in exchange for "real peace."
The widely-held prediction is that Netanyahu will try to find a balancing point between the political exigencies of keeping his coalition together, while leaving him room to maneuver with Obama. If that is indeed his intention, he will require no simple acrobatics to pull it off.
One man won't be there to issue a quick response - Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who is set to leave for Paris this afternoon. Close associates of Barak said on Saturday that in the best scenario, Netanyahu "would say things that form a foundation for progress."
In any case, it's clear to all that tonight at 8:10 P.M., nothing will be ending - it's just getting started.