The political stage of the second Lebanon war opens tomorrow officially at the Knesset, with speeches by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu.
For Olmert this will be the start of his struggle for survival. For Netanyahu, it will be another attempt to conquer the political center, which dropped him after he resigned as finance minister and joined forces with the extreme right in an effort to foil the Gaza pullout.
While Olmert will have to contend on numerous fronts and against numerous rivals, Netanyahu's primary rival will be Netanyahu. In the past month he has been enjoying much approval; his statesman-like conduct and backing of the government and army have softened aversion to him. But Netanyahu has a tendency to knock over the bucket every time it fills with credit points.
Netanyahu recognizes, earlier than he expected, a real chance to sweep into power. He knows that the more this preoccupies him, the smaller his chances of returning to the prime minister's bureau. So he is seeking his own "victory picture": for example, he is trying to enlist the former chief of staff, Moshe Ya'alon, as his candidate for defense minister. With Ya'alon's image as one who eats unilateral withdrawals for breakfast, this could give Netanyahu a powerful tail wind in future wrangling with Olmert, and in the battle to fortify his standing as chairman of the Likud and opposition.
With all the problems Netanyahu faces, he has no reason to envy Olmert. The novice prime minister emerges from this campaign bruised and weakened. In the coming months he will have to deal with opposition from right and left, with a committee of inquiry or review, with the state comptroller, with the abandoned northern residents, with an army complaining it was not allowed to win. And with a fickle public opinion and media, which can raise to the heights and cast down into the depths.
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