The Netanyahu of 1996-1999, who was caught bluffing and changing his mind every Monday and Thursday, is once more emerging from the lamp, declaring that in the next cabinet vote he would oppose implementation of the disengagement plan.
While ethicists and scientists debate human cloning, a wondrous instance of self-cloning is taking place in the Israeli political arena.
Benjamin Netanyahu, who aspires to lead the state once again, on the basis of a personality metamorphosis that he has undergone since his previous term as prime minister, is trying to create the illusion that the apple might possibly climb back up the tree.
Astonishingly, the chicken hatching out of Netanyahu's egg is identical to the one that laid it. The Netanyahu of 1996-1999, who was caught bluffing and changing his mind every Monday and Thursday, is once more emerging from the lamp, declaring that in the next cabinet vote he would oppose implementation of the disengagement plan.
Here is the history of Netanyahu's votes on disengagement:
On June 6, 2004 he supported the plan in a cabinet vote, explaining that his conditions for agreeing to it had been fulfilled. The terms entailed including settlement blocs within the separation fence, ensuring the IDF control of the entrances to the Gaza Strip and a public U.S. declaration opposing the right of return for Palestinians.
On October 16, he voted for the plan in the Knesset, after the parliamentary putsch he had planned for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon failed. On that occasion Netanyahu headed a group of ministers who were planning to abstain from the vote, on the pretext that the issue must be determined in a referendum.
They intended to endanger, if not torpedo, the plan's chances of obtaining Knesset approval. The rebel group was forced to crawl into the plenum and vote for the plan when it became apparent that Sharon had not panicked and that, contrary to the rebels' expectations, NRP MKs did not join the ambush.
When the cabinet voted on the Evacuation Compensation Law, which enables implementation of the disengagement plan, Netanyahu supported it. He also did so in the three Knesset votes on the bill; the final one took place on February 16.
It was only after this process was completed that Netanyahu changed his mind. He voted in the cabinet against the proposal authorizing the government to evacuate the settlements from the Gaza Strip and north Samaria and requiring the cabinet to reconvene before implementing each of the plan's four stages.
Netanyahu's voting patterns have left erratic imprints on Israeli politics. His arguments are more illustrative than his straying. He explained his last vote - against the disengagement - by saying that the issue had not been determined by a referendum. On the eve of the February 20 cabinet vote, he told "Meet the Press" that "Without a referendum, I will not be able to support the plan."
And lo, in a speech he made in the Likud Executive meeting three days ago, he announced that he would vote against implementing the disengagement because it is bad and because the Palestinians see it as proof that they can defeat Israel by employing terror.
Now, Netanyahu is not justifying his opposition to the plan by Sharon's refusal to bring it to a referendum, but by using the harsh criticism voiced by Avi Dichter and Moshe Ya'alon. So carried away was Netanyahu with his new argument that he announced last week that he "salutes the courage" of the outgoing chief of staff and Shin Bet head for "telling it like it is."
A layman might ask: Why didn't the finance minister have the courage and integrity to "tell it like it is" himself? After all, he had quite a few opportunities to disagree with the plan in cabinet debates and votes.
A week ago, smoke came out of Netanyahu's pocket as he walked to a cabinet meeting. Apparently when he saw journalists, he hastened to stash the cigar in his mouth deep in his pocket, so that he could not be photographed looking smug and satisfied.
Even in his new incarnation, he proved that the poseur is the very essence of the man. There's no smoke without fire.