Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is an impressive man, a worldly man. His voice is deep and convincing. He is articulate, refined and educated, certainly when compared to most of the politicians around him. Netanyahu is also a brave man, or at least he used to be. While we were busy fearing the army drill sergeant, he faced up to the enemies' bullets, crossed dangerous borders and took part in untold military operations. Which is why the riddle of his current pathetic state and the mystery of his resounding weakness are so glaring: they have no explanation.
There is no explanation as to why an individual who participated in dangerous missions in his youth has turned into a man haunted by so many baseless fears. How is it that the same person who once stood up to Ariel Sharon is now so threatened in the presence of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who humiliates him again and again? How is it that a man who was able to claim the position of prime minister twice over, and who wasted the opportunity the first time around, is now doing so no less outrageously for the second time? And how is it that an individual who had such a golden opportunity to make his mark and maybe even enter the annals of history - from which he so loves to cite his historian father - time after time misses his chance so shamefully?
When he goes to bed at night, toward the end of his second term as prime minister, what does he think he'll be leaving as his legacy? What will be remembered? The firefighting supertanker from the Carmel Forest? Regulations allowing people to shut in their balconies? Was it worth the effort to reach the top twice if nothing is left behind as a legacy, other than wasted time?
Now, through his media spokesmen, we are hearing Netanyahu say that the change we have been longing for is just around the corner. Wait just a little longer, another hundred days - the die will be cast and Netanyahu will be revealed in all his glory and greatness. Just one more speech and then our salvation will come: another kind of statesman, a different policy, the "new" Netanyahu, the Bibi 2.0 that we have long been promised, including astonishing concessions and an outsized display of courage.
In the meantime, the spokesman are still speaking on his behalf. He is still guarding the secret, but the "outsiders" you meet are already convinced. "He's working on something. He's reading the situation. He knows his time is limited and he's trying to make a breakthrough. There is no doubt that Benjamin Netanyahu is making a supreme effort to deliver a surprise. Developments are expected in the coming weeks." (See Ari Shavit's "His last 100 days," Haaretz, January 13. )
Vanity of vanities, illusion of illusions. None of this existed before and therefore none of it will in the future. The leopard, certainly an old leopard, can't change its spots. What has not been achieved in the first two years won't ever be accomplished. One speech has already been wasted and a second won't make a difference. The prime minister's promise to eat his hat (happily, by the way ) means it is a foregone conclusion that he will have to.
But let's assume that this is not a question of fear, that Netanyahu believes with all his heart that the status quo suits Israel and this is why he is exhibiting such incompetence. If that's the case, how are we to explain his weakness in the face of dangerous domestic developments, the wild attacks perpetrated by Lieberman and his like on democracy? Does Netanyahu believe in these things, too?
He is a devotee of the United States, after all. He knows this type of democracy doesn't exist. But what has he had to say about such attacks on it? He merely made do with a defense of his Likud party colleagues. Great, Bibi. Not a word about human rights groups, which any minute now will be placed beyond the protection of the law. How pathetic. And how pathetic his conduct was in the presence of the families who lost loved ones in the Carmel fire.
What does he have to say about his foreign minister's performance? That he is attracting support for Israel. Does he actually believe this, too? And if not, where has he been?
When it came time to look death straight in the eyes, as they say, 42 years ago at Beirut airport Netanyahu the soldier had sufficient courage - blowing up 14 passenger planes there. As prime minister, however, he is afraid of his foreign minister, the former night-club bouncer. It's hard to imagine how his predecessor, Sharon, would have treated Lieberman. A foreign minister Lieberman would no longer be around.
Our hearts are tempted to believe in the promises that have been made, that maybe they will actually be fulfilled. That all is not lost and the prime minister will finally come to his senses and do something to leave behind a mark of some kind. Let's meet again in another hundred days, hundred weeks or hundred months.