Does Israel Have No Alternative to Netanyahu?

Although there is criticism of Benjamin Netanyahu's failures on the issues of peace and his frightening plans against Iran, there is no potential replacement in view. He is building himself up as the one and only leader of the people.

The more Israel's image in the world deteriorates, the more Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is flourishing. It's hard not to notice that his hair is groomed daily and perfectly combed. The color ranges from gray to light blue, and every hair is in place. It's no coincidence that they cleared out a room in the Prime Minister's Residence that contained communications equipment and turned it into a hairdressing salon. Not only for Sara, but for Bibi too. This is not the same arrogant Bibi we recall from his first term, but a man who is playing the role of leader.

At last week's annual Saban Forum in Washington, D.C., senior U.S. government officials said uncomplimentary things about Israel and its behavior. Bibi, meanwhile, is playing the national leader who compares himself to Israel's first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion - the leader "who didn't take the gentiles into account." Actually, the opposite is the case. B-G was attentive to the great powers and certainly far from inciting them. When U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower demanded that Israel immediately evacuate Sinai after the Sinai Campaign in 1956, he agreed, although in the Knesset he festively declared the "establishment of the third kingdom of Israel."

While commentators are trying to decide how Bibi will extricate himself from the problems in our region, he surprises everyone with his decision to move up the Likud primaries to January 31. This step doesn't mean he plans to bring forward the elections, but neither does he dismiss the idea. He might be telling himself that it is not written in the Torah that elections have to take place only two years from now. His thoughts are probably along the lines of: I'm leading in the polls. I released captive soldier Gilad Shalit, and I was also the first to embrace him. At the moment there is no candidate opposing me. The opposition is weak, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Defense Minister Ehud Barak will be dependent on me. I'll find a way to appoint Barak as defense minister again. The members of the party will be angry? Let them be. I'll decide who'll be where, and whether and when there will be elections.

Netanyahu wants to exploit his success in the opinion polls, before the state comptroller publishes his reports about the December 2010 Carmel fire, the May 2010 Turkish flotilla, Bibi's foreign travels, etc. The words of U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the Saban Forum, to the effect that Israel reminds her of Iran, did not weaken Netanyahu. On the contrary. "Who is she to preach to us," was the leak that emerged from the offices of Interior Minister Eli Yishai. Bibi did not exactly reprimand him, and they even attributed to Yishai's associates the statement that it's preferable for elected officials to concentrate on their own countries.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta demanded the parties sit down at the negotiating table already, but Bibi seems arrogant. I wouldn't be surprised if he decided to move up the primaries as a first step to moving up the elections. When U.S. President Barack Obama lobbies in order to be elected to a second term, he will need the Jewish vote - in other words, to be on the good side of the person who is governing Israel now as well. Bibi may move up the elections, but not before he knows for certain that he will have a strong party.

He received almost complete support from a majority of Likud members to move up the primaries. MK Miri Regev claimed that a date agreed by all the candidates should be set. Bibi's sarcastic response: Likud is a free and democratic movement. Anyone who wants to present his candidacy for the premiership can do so. A small barb aimed at minister Silvan Shalom. Those who looked in the direction of Ehud Barak heard him say that in the coming elections, "you'll see the ballot of the Atzmaut Party." That sounds like a joke. Barak depends on Bibi, and Bibi won't move up the elections before there is an agreement between them that Barak will be defense minister.

Never has Israel's status been as controversial as it is now, when Bibi is full of himself. But there is no other candidate for the premiership on the horizon. The summer social protest did not harm him. Tzipi-Shmipi, as Kadima leader Tzipi Livni was dubbed after the strange interview she gave to the daily Yedioth Ahronoth, would lose votes in early elections. For years, there has been no candidate trailing behind an incumbent prime minister. There's no Moshe Sharett, who trailed behind Ben-Gurion; there's no Golda Meir, who trailed behind Shimon Peres, who trailed behind Yitzhak Rabin. Although there is criticism of Bibi's failures on the issues of peace and his frightening plans against Iran, there is no potential replacement in view. He is building himself up as the one and only leader of the people.

Netanyahu is counting on the fact that Obama will be a lame duck next year, and assumes that, in that case, the Jewish vote will be worth its weight in gold. But focused on himself, Bibi has not noticed that even a lame duck president is still capable of helping or harming in his heavyweight role as president. Bibi must beware that his self-love does not affect his political judgment.