It has been a while since Israel has had a politician like Benjamin Netanyahu, who gave up his seat only because he was anxious about how he would look in the history books. He doesn't care about trivial, short-term matters like the reservations that members of the Likud Party Central Committee have about the disengagement plan. He is not interested in polls that show a surge in his popularity among party members. When the son of Dr. Benzion Netanyahu speaks about "withdrawal under fire" from the Gaza Strip, he is induced to do so by the genes of a historian. When he warns of the dangers of Palestinian seaports and airports in Gaza, he is attuned to the fluttering of the wings of history. Unfortunately for him, contemporary history contradicts at once the main argument used by Netanyahu to explain the move he made. History in fact reinforces the explanation that it was nothing more than a result of idle speculation.
It was last October when this same Netanyahu, who this week announced that he could not bear responsibility for the terrible tragedy about to unfold, voted in favor of disengagement. He posed an ultimatum, true, that if the plan were not brought to a referendum he would resign from the government, but he changed his mind and signed off on the evacuation-compensation budget. What has happened since then? Did such a worldly wise politician as he assume that Sharon would tell George Bush, Vladimir Putin and Tony Blair that the disengagement plan was a regretful mistake and that Israel must not expel Israeli settlers under fire? It is a shame that Netanyahu did not try using that excuse when Bill Clinton invited him for a meeting with Yasser Arafat at the Wye Plantation, following the violent clashes sparked by the opening of the Western Wall tunnel in September 1996. In October 1998, two days before the three leaders convened at Wye, two yeshiva boys were murdered in Jerusalem. While the summit was in progress, 64 citizens were injured in a terror attack in Be'er Sheva.
The historian who studies the chronicles of the Netanyahu era will be interested in comparing the text of his resignation from the Ministry of Finance with the written agreement he signed as prime minister at the Wye Plantation. For example, in his Knesset speech, Netanyahu warned, "A port can be a lethal thing ... [John F.] Kennedy went to atomic war because of a Cuban port. With our own two hands, we are giving them a deep-water port. There is not even a sea that divides us ... The missiles will reach Tel Aviv."
Less than seven years ago, Netanyahu signed the following lines: "The Israeli side and the Palestinian side recognize the extreme importance of a Gaza port for the development of the Palestinian economy ... The sides commit to continue without delay to reach an agreement that will enable the construction and operation of the port ..." In order to ensure there will not be delays, it was agreed that a joint committee would operate, with the objective of reaching within 60 days "an agreement that would enable the start of construction of the port."
Netanyahu warned the members of Knesset that "they would stream here from Syria, Afghanistan and from Iraq ... This isn't only a local enemy, this is a global enemy," and implored them: "Don't give them a port and don't give them a massive base for terror." Where was this same enemy hiding in October 1998 when Netanyahu offered Arafat 13 percent of Area C?
In the Knesset, he railed against the proposal to operate the Gaza airport and to receive control over the airspace. At the Wye conference, Netanyahu agreed in writing not only to the "construction and operation of the Gaza airport during the interim period" - the agreement also guaranteed that the parties would do their best to reach agreement soon on two safe passages between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. The settlers and the extreme right furiously attacked Netanyahu at the time. They argued that he was misleading his voters, and that they had not given him a mandate to hand over territory to Arafat.
In his resignation speech, Netanyahu complained: "This is not the government I entered, it is a different government, which is opposed to the principles of the Likud and the mandate we received from the voter."
The conclusion: There is no need to panic. Netanyahu has not undergone any professional retraining from politician to historian. Like Sharon in his present term, a few days in the prime minister's office will suffice to remind him that the view from that office is very different from the view seen from the office of the Yesha Council of settlements. And from the Likud Party Central Committee.
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