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At the moment of truth - when major reforms are in the offing, the 2006 budget has not yet even passed the cabinet, and the economy is still trying to solidify its fragile growth - Benjamin Netanyahu is deserting. He is fleeing from the fight.

In essence, he never saw himself "only" as finance minister. He considers himself better than Ariel Sharon, wiser than him, with a better understanding of every field, including diplomacy and military affairs. Netanyahu could not forgive himself for not having run against Sharon in 2001 - as a result of which, he was compelled to sit in cabinet meetings and absorb insults and scorn from Sharon, instead of the situation being reversed. Therefore, from the moment he was (surprisingly) appointed finance minister, he was preparing the revolution: He was preparing to topple Sharon and replace him. Opposition to the disengagement was merely a tool.

Early on, a year into the job, Netanyahu thought that Attorney General Menachem Mazuz would do the job for him by indicting Sharon. It was possible at that time to observe the metamorphosis that Netanyahu underwent. Suddenly, economics ceased to interest him; he devoted all his time to internal politics. He tried to topple Sharon via a referendum that would show that there was no majority for the disengagement, which would compel Sharon to resign.

Afterward, in October 2004, he tried to topple Sharon via a putsch in the Knesset: He organized a group of ministers who were supposed to vote against the disengagement. But in the end, he was forced to abandon this ploy with a red face, because his comrades abandoned the fight.

Netanyahu then turned opposition to the disengagement into a blatant and daily political weapon meant to undermine Sharon's status. A month ago, he voted in the cabinet in favor of postponing the disengagement and also made a far-reaching proposal: to send the Israel Defense Forces deep into the Gaza Strip again for a wide-scale military operation, "Defensive Shield 2," in response to the Qassam rockets fired at Sderot. Let us not forget that in Defensive Shield 1, in Jenin, many Israeli soldiers were killed.

After that, Netanyahu objected to withdrawing from the Philadelphi route, in order to disrupt the disengagement and turn it into a failure. He wanted Israel to remain like a bone in the Palestinians' throat, so that the Palestinians would have a pretext for continuing the terror attacks, thereby making his prediction - that terror would only increase following a withdrawal from Gaza - come true.

He also opposed having Egypt replace Israel in patroling the Philadelphi route. If the Egyptians were to succeed in sealing the border, this would not jibe with his view that the border will be even more porous to terrorist arms smuggling after the disengagement.

Netanyahu's strategy has three stages: toppling Sharon; conquering the Likud Central Committee by veering rightward and opposing the disengagement; and then a wink to the left.

The latter will happen a month or two before the elections. At that point, he will change direction and start talking about "the importance of peace" and "honoring signed agreements." And some voters in the center of the political map will believe that maybe this time, he is serious, and they will vote for him.

How is it possible to know that all this will happen? Because this is exactly what happened when he ran for prime minister in 1996.

Just last week, when he presented the 2006 budget to the public, Netanyahu said that his goal is for Israel to have achieved, within 10 years, a per capita gross domestic product of $29,000, which is the average among developed Western countries. That is a worthy goal. But achieving it will require hard work, difficult decisions and a battle against powerful unions and tycoons. One cannot abandon the war in the middle and still talk about growth. One cannot present a far-reaching program as part of the budget, including important reforms and structural changes, and then run away the minute the time comes to implement them.

Anyone who abandons the socioeconomic war in this fashion proves that neither the economy nor society interests him. In other words, the entire public does not interest Netanyahu. The only one who interests Netanyahu is himself. Such a man is unfit to be a leader. And he is certainly unfit to be prime minister.