Prince's Return / Begin Again

It happened at the annual memorial service for Menachem Begin about four months ago, where Benjamin Netanyahu met Benny Begin. "We have to talk," Netanyahu said to Begin. "You are the party chairman; invite me and I'll come," Begin answered. Six months went by, and nothing happened. Begin thought Netanyahu had changed his mind; Netanyahu was afraid of being turned down. Then former Knesset speaker Reuven Rivlin, an old friend of Begin, stepped in and arranged a few meetings for them at his home in Jerusalem. They opened up all the old wounds and left no stone unturned - on ideological matters as well as diplomatic and even personal ones. Until the last meeting, on Saturday night. Then the deal was closed.

Yesterday morning at 9:30 the Haaretz Internet site reported, simultaneously with Army Radio, that Begin was coming back, again. It proved that the the most active recycling operation in Israel is not of paper, plastic or waste, but of politicians. They always come back, in one form or another. It is impossible not to stand in awe of Netanyahu's marketing skills. On one side, Begin, an extreme right-winger, in the purest and most real sense of the word, and on the other, Asaf Hefetz and Uzi Dayan, who are left of center. On the third side, Ze'ev Jabotinsky's grandson, and on the fourth side Dan Meridor (whose glow was somewhat dimmed yesterday as he is not considered an essential acquisition). Netanyahu brought them all to Likud. If so far, Kadima was considered an ideological supermarket in which right and left were mixed on the shelves, from now on, it is a corner grocery compared to Likud.

How do Begin, Jabotinsky and Rivlin live together in one party, in one government, with Meridor, Hefetz and Dayan? And yet, until disagreements arise - and arise they will - you have to hand it to Netanyahu. He is riding a wave of popularity. In contrast to 2006, when even a stray dog would not have gone to Likud, this time the Likud seems to be a winning ticket. Three years ago Kadima and Labor were magnets for rising stars: Ayalon, Braverman and Yachimovich went to Labor; Dichter, Reichman, Peres, Ramon, Itzik and senior Likud figures streamed to Kadima. Now Kadima is stagnating, Labor is suffocating and the crowds are storming Likud. There's room for everyone, Netanyahu says. His problems with this ideological mix-and-match will start on the day after. It will not be easy; Netanyahu is no magician. But these might be his best days. Benny Begin, despite his extreme opinions, which are unlikely to have changed in the nine years he confined himself to the Geological Survey of Israel that he headed, is a rare asset to Likud. He is Mr. Clean, an answer to Tzipi Livni in terms of integrity, and rehabilitates Netanyahu in the name of everyone who scattered in all directions from Likud in '98 and '99 because of Netanyahu and are now coming back because of him, too. In insisting on running for a place on the list, he has set a norm Meridor cannot ignore.