If Netanyahu Were a Statesman

The press conference Benjamin Netanyahu convened midweek was that of a politician rather than a statesman.

If Benjamin Netanyahu had any real greatness in him, he would have convened a dramatic press conference this week in which he would have said the following:

"Tzipi Livni and Ehud Barak are petty politicians. They are trying to form a government that is a continuation of the failed Olmert-Peretz government. I hear the things being said by Deputy Chief of Military Intelligence Brig. Gen. Yosi Baidatz. I understand that Iran has accumulated about half the fissionable material it needs to build a nuclear bomb. I understand that Iran has mastered the technology for enriching uranium, and that it is now galloping forward on the way to nuclear capability. I know that in the next 18 months Israel will have to make one of the most difficult decisions in its history. Therefore, like Menachem Begin in 1967, I am setting aside personal considerations and party interests. I prefer the good of the country to my own good. I hereby declare that I am willing to serve for a limited period as Tzipi Livni's deputy in a national emergency government."

If Benjamin Netanyahu had any greatness in him, he would also have said the following at the press conference that he would have convened: "The global economic crisis is only at its beginning, and Israel's economic crisis is around the corner. The Olmert-Hirchson-Bar-On government did nothing to anticipate the problem, and to fight the coming recession. However, I am not a politician, I am a patriot and a professional. I'm not looking to get even. Rather, I am ready to place my abilities and reputation at the disposal of my country. I hereby propose to prime minister-designate Livni that she appoint me, on an emergency basis, finance minister and head of an economic cabinet."

If Benjamin Netanyahu had any greatness in him he would have used the press conference to define the four goals of the proposed emergency government: confronting the Iranian threat, confronting the economic threat, an educational revolution and a change in Israel's system of government. In front of the TV crews, Netanyahu would have admitted that there are profound differences of opinion between Likud and Labor on the Palestinian question, but proposed that for a year and a half these differences of opinion be set aside. The chairman of the opposition would have proposed that the national unity government to be established immediately focuses on the other four topics on the national agenda.

He would have said the following: "After a period of hard work in which we will ensure security and rehabilitate the economy, improve the education system and amend the government system, we will be able to return to the penetrating ideological debate concerning the division of the country, which will be decided in the coming elections. However, until the 2010 elections, we have to do what the Alignment, Rafi and Gahal did on the eve of the Six-Day War. We must overcome personal and sectarian disputes and work together in order to guarantee national survival."

If Benjamin Netanyahu had any greatness in him, such a press conference would also have helped him politically. It would have made him look good. The unexpected move would have shuffled the cards of a miserable and inferior inter-party game. While Livni and Barak would have been seen as pathetic players, he would have posited himself as the true Israeli leader. His purely ethical act would have shattered his dubious image and granted him broad support and sweeping popularity. Bibi would have become the new Sharon. Even the media would have treated him with kid gloves. Although he would have been forced to postpone his move to the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem by about a year, he would have guaranteed that transition. And no person and no force would have been able to block his path to power.

But Benjamin Netanyahu has chosen to behave differently. The press conference he convened midweek was that of a politician rather than a statesman. It was a disappointing press conference of the head of a small party rather than the leader of a country. In the face of an historic challenge that Netanyahu understands well, he chose to behave like a petty person who concerns himself with petty matters.

That's a shame. Because there is much more to the son of Benzion Netanyahu. The brother of Yonatan Netanyahu is capable of much more. Bibi is really one of the most talented people among us. He even has a degree of greatness. However, only when the former prime minister knows how to extricate this certain greatness from the considerable number of personal and personality weaknesses he also possesses, will he be a leader of stature. This week he was unable to do so. Will he be able to do so next week?