The Blessing of the Second Time Around

Bibi Version 2 can be a replay of Bibi Version 1 or surprise by diverting from his known and boring program. The matter is still in his hands.

David Ben-Gurion, Yitzhak Shamir and Benjamin Netanyahu had one thing in common besides all having been prime ministers: they were all born in the same week of October.

Much more obvious are the differences between them, each representing different generations, with Shamir being 29 years Ben-Gurion's junior, and 34 years older than Netanyahu.

While most prime ministers have been characterized by being remembered more for their second term in office than their first, this does not always hold true. Not for Ben-Gurion, who shaped the mold, and still not for Netanyahu. But if there are any constant rules, then perhaps the precedent will also apply to the current prime minister.

In November 1998, on the third anniversary of the murder of Yitzhak Rabin, his widow, Leah, wrote to an old friend: "I hope, pray, that the days of this government are numbered. Benjamin Netanyahu is a corrupt individual, a contentious liar who is ruining everything that is good about our society. He is breaking it up to bits, and in the future we will have to rebuild it all over, with bridges of understanding and tolerance that have been demolished long ago."

In March 1999, the day after Rabin's birthday, Leah added in a letter to the same friend: "We all want this nightmare to end, that this monstrosity called Netanyahu will get lost because he exhausted our patience a long time ago."

She expressed hope that Ehud Barak would win the elections, with the support of the Center Party ("the fact that my wonderful daughter Dalia is there [in that party] is difficult for me").

Her hope came true but quickly evaporated. After that, there was a sharp drop in emotions. Barak, in his fall in 2001, wished to come back as prime minister the way Rabin had done. To date he's only managed to cross half the distance that Rabin did, to the Defense Ministry, and his chances of imitating Rabin fully are nonexistent, except in an extreme scenario.

It is actually Netanyahu who, for now, has managed to recover in a style similar to Rabin, even though in his case it is with the portfolios of the Foreign Ministry and the treasury and not Defense (like Shimon Peres before him, in between his two terms as prime minister).

Netanyahu in his second term is not necessarily similar to Rabin in his second term, just like the first Netanyahu, arrogant, did not have any similarities to the first Rabin, who was hesitant.

But even Rabin's enemies will admit that his second term was much more successful than his first. By then, at 70, he was an older and more experienced statesman who defeated one after another internal party rivals (Peres) and external ones (Shamir), and not a young 52-year-old greenhorn, an appointed leader under the auspices of Golda Meir and Pinhas Sapir.

During his first term, Rabin surrendered to the National Religious Party, missed a chance for an agreement with Jordan and moved slowly and in too many steps along the path of peace with Egypt.

During his second term he signed agreements with the Palestine Liberation Organization and Jordan. His assassination was a terrible blow not to the Oslo process, which was stalled because of its structural problems, but those supporting an agreement with Syria.

The blessing of the second time around did not serve Moshe Sharett, who did not receive a second chance. Levi Eshkol went to the polls as Ben-Gurion's successor, emerged from them a victor after beating Ben-Gurion and Menachem Begin by virtue of his abilities and not because of any favors, and served as the prime minister who commanded the Israel Defense Forces during the Six-Day War.

Meir reached the peak of her power - it is an entirely different matter whether she used it wisely - with her second coalition. Shamir, when he returned as prime minister, after the Peres hiatus, held back during the Iraq War in 1991, and took part in the subsequent Madrid Process. Ariel Sharon avoided major changes in his first term, and decided to evacuate the Gaza Strip during his second.

Improvement the second time around is not guaranteed. Begin, who signed a peace agreement with Egypt during his first term, sought to undermine it during his second term, by stalling the talks on Palestinian autonomy, in annexing the Golan Heights, and in embarking on the first Lebanon war.

Peres, an energetic organizer of diplomatic and economic initiatives during his first term, failed by making every political and defense related mistake during his second term.

Bibi Version 2 can be a replay of Bibi Version 1 or surprise by diverting from his known and boring program. The matter is still in his hands.

Either way, based on the past, the decision will not substantively influence the possibility of a Bibi Version 3. Only Ben-Gurion has been more than twice victorious.