Floating Voter / Bad Luck, Bibi

I hereby offer Benjamin Netanyahu my condolences on his election as chairman of the Likud. And yes, I meant "condolences." Bibi does not know how difficult it is to be the head of a small party in our present political reality. Although he once shrunk the Likud to 19 seats, there is still a difference between just under 20 seats and just over 10 - the difference between a possible prime minister and a barely possible leader of the opposition.

I can share my experience on this subject with Bibi: For seven years, I headed Meretz. Under my leadership, the party received 10 seats in 1999 but won only six seats in 2003, again under my leadership. Now, it is struggling to repeat its 2003 achievement. Bibi has no idea how difficult it is to run a campaign when the sword of the polls turns against you - and it is a sharp sword, which is at your neck every day.

With a small party, the distress is great. Even the financial savings are painful. A small party means small posters of its leaders, and Netanyahu will also have to get used to chronic fund shortages in order to avoid violating the campaign finance laws. A small party has a small conference table, and whenever someone stretches his legs under it, someone else gets kicked and complains loudly: It is so crowded in here, positively suffocating. And as the hope of winning power wanes, the strife and quarreling increase. It is easy to feed a party with a thick slice of the government; it is much harder to satisfy it with crumbs from the table.

One should not envy Netanyahu his election; he has almost certainly been elected now in order to be ousted later. To be honest, only once in my life have I been jealous of him: when he left his first meeting with Yasser Arafat, and immediately announced he had found a friend. And I was filled with envy - because I had met with Arafat dozens of times to conduct official negotiations on behalf of the government, yet I never saw Arafat as a friend. At most, I saw him as a partner in an Israeli-Palestinian dialogue, who was later revealed to be a misleading partner. But this was just a matter of personal taste: Netanyahu liked Arafat; I liked him less.

Perhaps I'm doing Netanyahu an injustice, for many claim that "he has changed." To this, one should reply that first, it is doubtful whether adults ever change that much. And second - is it appropriate for someone of Netanyahu's stature, who already has been prime minister, no less, to change that much? Was the person we elected then someone we did not actually know at all, who needed to be reincarnated in order for us to forgive and reelect him? Perhaps someday the "new candidate" will detail the flaws of the former prime minister for us, so that we will all know what improvements have taken place since.

Currently, it is difficult to identify these improvements. Has the man who informed us, in all seriousness, that he was offered a job as Italy's finance minister, really changed? And if so, has it been for the better?

But there is no need for me to interject my opinion here. What would you think of a former education minister, who somehow acquired a reputation as a good minister, if he told you that Italy or Denmark, Bushmanland or Hottentotland, had asked him to be their education minister? I do not even want to hear what you would really think about such a person.