If it were only a matter of Penina Rosenblum, Miri Regev and Yehiel Hazan joining the ranks of Likud, we could have summed up the entire affair with a big yawn. The cynics would surely have claimed that this is also final proof of the fact that Hazan really did steal the "brain" from the electronic voting equipment in the Knesset storeroom. After all, the surveys indicate that Benjamin Netanyahu and Likud are expected to soar to about 30-plus seats, which greatly increases the chances of every negligible politician entering the Knesset.
But the prodigal sons also include two who, not coincidentally, have become media darlings. Benjamin Begin and Dan Meridor are among the most decent political figures we have. They are considered intelligent people who pursue justice and reject honors, and up until two weeks ago they were also seen as Netanyahu's strongest critics.
Their return to the bosom of Likud requires a renewed and serious examination of them, of the movement to which they are returning and of its leader. Has Netanyahu changed? Have Begin and Meridor changed? Has the diplomatic, social, security and economic situation changed?
We must devote some thought to this process, to those who are returning home, to the new members and to the person who has succeeded in doing all this. Tzipi Livni, the chairwoman of Kadima, believes that her cynicism will conceal her panic; Ehud Barak, the chairman of Labor, sees how the lost children of his party are only fleeing even further from it because of him, and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is Netanyahu's greatest asset at the moment. Olmert may attribute a historical dimension to his most recent declarations and speeches, but they contain primarily a historical dimension for those voters who are trying to decide between returning to the Likud or continuing their affair with Kadima.
To borrow expressions from the world of sports for a moment, Netanyahu exploited the transfer window and got an impressive steal. Shortly before Begin and Meridor, he also recruited Maj. Gen. (retired) Yossi Peled, followed by former police commissioner Assaf Hefetz, and his large appetite will be sated only after the flirtations with former chief of staff Moshe Ya'alon end by turning him into a full-fledged Likudnik. When that happens, Netanyahu can come to the elections with his dream team.
About three months remain until the elections. I think that will be time enough to reach the conclusion that nothing has changed. Begin has remained extreme in his views, Meridor has resumed his opposition to clear diplomatic solutions, and Likud and Netanyahu offer diplomatic stagnation at best.
Netanyahu may have thought he would benefit from a screen that would conceal the story, but this screen is translucent. After all the saccharine press conferences and behind the smiling faces lies the old hawkish Likud. A Likud that refuses to offer solutions, that proposes living by the sword forever, whose basic instinct - whose very nature - is limited to saying no. Now it has old-new faces, but they should not deceive us.
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