The Speech Not Given

His bureau still in disorder, the prime minister-designate went up to the podium with the wrong speech in his hand.

A slight hitch marred the stately swearing-in ceremony of the 32nd government in the Knesset. His bureau still in disorder, the prime minister-designate went up to the podium with the wrong speech in his hand. The inspiring statements with which Benjamin Netanyahu was going to redefine himself had been forgotten in his Caesarea home. Instead, he was forced to read a ponderous, boring text that exhausted even him.

Fortunately, however, the original speech the prime minister was supposed to give at the Knesset was not lost. Here's a taste of it:

Citizens of Israel, I stand before you with a sense of humility. Thirteen years ago you put your confidence in me and I failed you. In the past years I've learned the lessons of failure. I've realized that my main mistake in my previous term was sowing division and dispute in the nation. So this time I come to unite, not to divide.

To mend, not to rupture. To heal. I will be the prime minister of those who voted against me no less than of those who voted for me. I am attentive to your opinions and aware of your misgivings, my rivals. I extend my hand to you.

I believe we have all matured in the last decade. We've all understood that we were right in certain senses and wrong in others. Believing that we all share one fate and one destiny, I will make every effort to bridge the differences among us.

I won't talk of threats tonight. The challenges are known - the Iranian nuclear program, radical Islam, the economic crisis. But at this time what is required is not merely understanding the danger, but increasing hope. I have hope. I am full of hope. I believe in the powers hidden in Israeli society. I believe in the ability inherent in the Israeli economy. I believe in our science, culture and technology. I believe Israel is a free country with a unique vitality, which has enough strength to ward off all those who want to destroy it. Mine will be a government of hope.

Peace. Seven Israeli prime ministers believed in peace and tried to establish it. Yitzhak Rabin and Ehud Barak were the bravest, but only Menachem Begin succeeded. I am committed to Begin's heritage. A responsible leader cannot promise success. But I pledge to conduct serious and thorough negotiations with Syria, the Palestinian Authority and the Arab League.

I will not accept the Arab initiative as it is, but will propose an Israeli initiative instead. I won't rule out the road map to peace, but will propose a new way to peace. I believe that only a different, daring and sober approach to the peace challenge can ensure our future in this difficult place.

Education. Ariel Sharon's most important initiative as prime minister was not the disengagement but the education revolution. I will carry out this revolution. I will take decisive, dramatic steps to turn education in Israel from developing-world to cutting-edge. The new government will formulate an overall strategy that will take advantage of the economic crisis and deal with it by means of an education revival-program. I will enlist the nation to a joint project of rehabilitating education and renewing Israeli excellence.

The speech Netanyahu forgot in Caesarea also included statements pledging commitment to the rule of law and quality leadership. But one especially important aspect of the speech not given was its Obama-sprit: the combination of the promise of change and an attempt at reconciliation; proposing a vision that is not cut off from reality. Breaking - emotionally - through the walls of hostility.

Netanyahu erred in his first moment as prime minister. By not giving an Obama-esque speech opening a new era, he missed a golden opportunity. The real problem, though, is not with the speech but with the speaker.

Netanyahu is one of the loneliest leaders in the world. He is acting in a hostile environment, inside and out. He is suffering from serious credit suffocation. He neither received nor will he receive a single day of grace.

Therefore his statement must be loud and clear. To deal with what faces him the new prime minister must make a new statement, suggest a new way and radiate a new spirit. Benjamin Netanyahu must find his voice - quickly.