Premiership as Theater

After seven months on the job, the traits that have characterized the second term of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are starting to take on an air of permanence.

After seven months on the job, the traits that have characterized the second term of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are starting to take on an air of permanence: complete paralysis in anything having to do with the peace process; systematic razing of the foreign relations of the country through a policy of "playing angry" every week against another friendly country; and chaos in the running of the Prime Minister's Bureau caused by infighting and strife.

All these do not appear to prevent the prime minister from making time, at every opportunity, to deal with what is considered to be his greatest talent, and perhaps what he sees as his main mission in this job: To "put on a show" through a refined and polished speech - part sermon, part debate society-esque exchange.

It was this sort of speech that he gave this week at the President's Conference in Jerusalem. After doing his customary review and analysis of the roots of our existence - Jewish history and our right to this land - the prime minister moved on to the peace process.

He called on Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to "lead your people to peace. Tell your people that it is time to end this conflict once and for all. Tell your people that it is time for both our peoples to live side-by-side in peace and security. I ask nothing of you that I have not demanded of myself ... Now it is time for you to tell your people the truth about peace ... I gave my speech at Bar-Ilan University. You can give yours at any of your universities or any institution you choose."

It is redundant to point out how hollow this theatrical call to Abbas is. As one who considers the "speech" to be the be-all and end-all, Netanyahu perceives the peace process as a rhetorical duel in which the exchange of statements over podiums constitutes an alternative to a serious and substantive diplomatic process.

Much more void of substance is his patronizing call for "leadership and courage on both sides," at a time when he himself has so far not revealed this quality, certainly not in the intellectually paralyzed coalition he has formed.

For this Netanyahu should be told to first correct his own failings.

Later, Netanyahu spoke of his vision for "eliminating the world's dependence on ... oil." He did not offer any details on how this will be achieved, but in a vague way - even more than that of Yaakov Meridor, who spoke in the 1980s of inventing a new energy to light Ramat Gan with a single bulb - added that "sometimes all it takes are one or two inventions to make a breakthrough and change the world."

He declared that he will establish a "national commission" that will bring about "a practical plan for efficient development in technologies and engineering to replace fossil fuels within the decade."

This promise has about as much chance of success as the one he made before the U.S. Congress during his previous term of office, in which he announced that Israel would willingly do away with American economic aid.

During his first term Netanyahu was accused of living and working in a "virtual reality," in which words, sermons and "public relations" replaced actions in a real world. Now it seems that these characteristics are reappearing.

It is ironic that the person who ridiculed Shimon Peres for his vision of a "new Middle East" has now adopted himself the lofty visions and haughty rhetoric, with an ambition to apply them to the entire world - by evading the need to back them up with actions.