Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is learning today what his predecessors went through: That in every generation new foils rise up against Likud prime ministers to trap, restrain and constrain them. Ariel Sharon was Yitzhak Shamir's chief foil; Netanyahu, as concerned citizen and as resigning cabinet minister, surrounded and assaulted Sharon from the right. Now he finds himself in a similar situation, encircled from the right by two of the men he appointed vice prime minister: MKs Moshe Ya'alon and Silvan Shalom.
At yesterday's meeting of Likud cabinet ministers Ya'alon and Shalom were the first to attack Netanyahu, each in his own way. Even before the U.S. proposal was submitted, the two went on the attack. Against what? Not on the eviction of a single settler from his home, not on a strategic issue, but rather over a tactical measure essential to keeping Israeli-U.S. relations afloat. One can only imagine what this duo will do when the first moment of truth arrives, in the border negotiations - that day is not far off - when Netanyahu reveals his final-arrangement map.
Ya'alon and Shalom launched the war of inheritance. Both believe that taking an uncompromising right-wing stance matching the messages of the Yesha Council - whose people pummeled the cell phones of the Likud ministers with text messages yesterday morning - will serve them one day. That day will come, they believe, when Netanyahu reaches an impasse with the Americans, with the right flank of his own party and coalition, or both.
His closest associates are positive that Ya'alon and Shalom's stance is untainted by ideological considerations. Not for nothing did Netanyahu casually mention in yesterday's meeting the road map approved by Sharon's cabinet. Which of the two was the foreign minister who supported the idea and sold it to the world? Hint: Not Ya'alon.
Netanyahu won't have trouble getting the cabinet to approve an extension of the construction freeze. Shas and Yisrael Beiteinu will stay; they have no choice. The problem is that when the original 10-month moratorium was approved, Netanyahu declared and promised and just about swore an oath committing to the resumption of settlement-building when it expired. Now, with a "weakened" U.S. President Barack Obama pushing him into a corner, the prime minister is being forced to put a renewal up for a vote - at the price of his credibility.
He is always either dragging his feet or being dragged by Washington into doing things he is not fully comfortable doing. Had he put forth a bold peace plan after forming his government, perhaps at his first meeting with Obama, it would all be different. Netanyahu would then be the leader, the pathbreaker. But instead of being the new Bibi, he zigzagged, he squirmed, he wasted time and pissed off the White House. And that's just the trailer for the talks on the borders, which the Americans hope to complete within three months after the bulldozers on the West Bank go silent for the second time.
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