Netanyahu gives a press conference
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives a press conference at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem on Feb. 22, 2012. Photo by AP
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The prime minister is having reservations about the defense minister's statements. The foreign minister is taking the trouble to differentiate himself from the prime minister. The finance minister is sounding the alarm about the defense minister. This isn't "Chad Gadya" - that Passover song that follows the same structure as "There was an Old Lady who Swallowed a Fly" - but rather the state of affairs at the top echelon of Israel's government.

There is no policy, there is no agreement, there is no budget, there is no reason to put effort into artificial respiration for the 18th Knesset. A clear manifestation of the low to which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government has sunk is the tale of the relations between him and Defense Minister Ehud Barak.

The two men, the pilot and the navigator who were about to take off to bomb Iran, have become embroiled in an embarrassing altercation full of reciprocal snipes, threats, reprimands, arrogant counterstatements, a near dismissal and finally a summit meeting culminating in a diplomatically formulated joint statement that pretends to iron out their differences but in reality shows how severe they are.

The artificial reconciliation between Netanyahu and Barak does not manage to conceal their disagreement over the basic question of foreign relations and security, in a government that relinquished a priori the third side of the triangle - the foreign minister - because of the international, or at least Western and Arab, shunning of Avigdor Lieberman.

It is difficult for Netanyahu to hold back and not meddle in the elections in the United States in Mitt Romney's favor. Barak, meanwhile, is looking both to the past and to the future, rightly expressing gratitude to incumbent U.S. President Barack Obama, who has a better chance of winning despite something of a recovery on his rival's part.

This issue is influencing the question of an attack on Iran, which affects the defense expenditures that constitute a difficult-to-digest share of the national budget.

Netanyahu is having a hard time finding a formula that will balance between the military and the civil and the various factions in his government. The elections for the 19th Knesset are shaping up to be a referendum on Netanyahu - the man, the platform and the performance. Less than one-quarter of the electorate expressed faith in the Likud in 2009. Its strength has not increased since then, and the public has not been persuaded that its activity justifies a renewal of the contract signed among the politicians after the polling booths closed.

A strong and trustworthy alternative to Netanyahu is needed in the center-left bloc. This is the time to choose between what Netanyahu represents and what is represented by forces more responsible than he is to lead Israel.