Being There

The Danish pianist and comedian Victor Borge incorporated selections of classical music into his performances, while making fun of the conventions of the piano recital itself. One of his regular shticks was to go onstage wearing a deadpan expression, approach the piano solemnly, sit down ceremoniously and begin an endless series of tunings and preparations: He would check the height of the bench, adjust the score, shake off some crumb from his suit, roll up his sleeves, clear his throat.

The audience held its breath when he finally stretched his hands toward the keys - but then he would stop and recheck the sheet music, readjust the bench, verify that the piano actually had pedals, and so on and so forth. Occasionally, after about 15 minutes of this he would play only one note, which turned out to be off key and served only to help him tune the piano.

It is doubtful that anyone held their breath waiting for Benjamin Netanyahu's second recital as prime minister, while recalling the shticks of his first concert, 10 years ago. But even after a decade during which the soloist waited backstage, and after 100 days of being on the stage itself, there are signs of the familiar pattern: Even though he is already sitting in the prime minister's seat, most of Netanyahu's repertoire consists of tunings and preparations for being prime minister.

First he hastily formed a coalition that while it doesn't afford him enough room to move his elbows will support his seat so that it doesn't shake. Afterward he waited for a long time and sat motionless to ensure that nothing would happen, so as not to spoil his performance. Later he shook himself suddenly in order to focus on one goal: an attempt to push through a legislative attack, part of which contradicted the spirit of the country's basic laws, the sole intention of which was to buttress his position - some of the bills, such as the grotesque "Mofaz law," was tailored specifically for the unique possibility of Kadima splitting and the deserters joining Likud.

"We are not the largest party," he reminded fellow Likud Knesset members, adding with a wink: "yet" - indicating to us that the preparation and the advance maneuvers for taking over the government are not yet over; maneuvers that may continue, this time too, throughout his term. How did Macbeth put it, even after his longed-for coronation? "To be thus is nothing, but to be safely thus..."

Before the last election, and for a short time after, it seemed that age and distance from government had done Netanyahu good and softened his persona, of which we had negative recollections - alternately arrogant and panicky - the persona that was removed from the stage in disgrace with the cooperation of the entire political system. When he was in the opposition, without his former arrogance and haughtiness, he seemed human, more adult and more mature, while the failures of the other prime ministers placed his first term in a forgiving light. Based on this hesitant hope, that the man really had changed, Netanyahu returned once again to the government - but almost probationally, and in fact with less than a one-seat advantage in the Knesset. Voters expressed a preference for Tzipi Livni, at least when it came to personal trust, more than they expressed sweeping confidence in Netanyahu.

Another man might have internalized the significance of the election results with a certain modesty, recognizing the need for flexibility and at the very least for cooperation with the party that received more votes than his. He would have understood that he could gain genuine power through great deeds, which in any case would win him the affection of the public, and not by patching another Nissan Slomiansky or Shaul Mofaz onto his coalition, which is paralyzed consciously and in advance.

But not Netanyahu, whose obsession "to be prime minister" created its own inertia, not stopping even after he achieved it. He is so afraid that his seat will be pulled out from under him that his hands have been busy until now mainly with holding tightly onto the seat. After three months he was finally forced, almost physically, to start playing - and even then his well-tempered clavichord sounded a hollow and lonely note, which is also meant only to help with tuning.

And when will the concert itself begin? Don't hold your breath. Let's put it this way: Even someone who is going to have a long coughing spell, or has to go to the bathroom or even to the snack bar, shouldn't hesitate.