In all his election campaigns, Benjamin Netanyahu told the truth. He was right in 1996 when he argued that the Oslo Accords had failed, and he was right in 1999 when he claimed Ehud Barak would divide Jerusalem.
Bibi was right in 2006 when he warned that the disengagement would bring Katyusha rockets to Ashkelon, and he was right in 2009 when he claimed that both Israel's security and its economy were under threat. But two things were missing from all of Netanyahu's election campaigns: organization and vision.
Bibi always told his voters the truth, but never offered them hope and leadership. Morose pessimism and negligent conduct clouded his command.
This was also the case when Netanyahu was prime minister. Contrary to popular belief, he scored quite a few successes during his three years in power. He repaired the economy, quashed inflation and advanced economic liberalism. He reduced terror, conducted negotiations with Syria and signed the Wye River Accord. During his tenure war did not break out and fewer Palestinians were killed than during the terms of Ariel Sharon, Barak or Ehud Olmert.
But although Netanyahu acted responsibly and judiciously, he failed to provide the people with a clear vision and a worthy administration. Blundering conduct and a constant confrontational attitude marred his term as prime minister.
Leaders of stature know the nature of their world. Franklin Delano Roosevelt knew that the relevant world in his time was the Great Depression. Harry S. Truman knew that for him it was the Cold War. Bill Clinton knew his relevant world was the economy, as does Barack Obama. In this sense Netanyahu is the most promising of Israel's leaders. His macro perception is superb and he thoroughly understands political and economic processes.
Unlike his rivals, Netanyahu knows that the relevant world of today is one of radical Islam and economic crisis. Being both statesman and economist, Netanyahu has the qualifications needed to deal with this challenging world. But inferior micromanagement and the inability to give hope could thwart the prime minister-designate again and again. Where there is no vision, the people cast off restraint, and without quality management any government would be lost.
Netanyahu's starting point is difficult. The dependence on Yisrael Beiteinu, Shas and the National Union does not leave the elitist from Rehavia much room to maneuver. And yet, even in the pressure cooker in which he must operate, Netanyahu could have done much more than he did: He should not have placed the rule of law in the hands of Avigdor Lieberman and Daniel Friedmann. He should not have abandoned Likud moderates Silvan Shalom and Dan Meridor. He should not have created a feeling that there is insufficient excellence at the top, and he should not have formed a right-wing government whose fate has already been set and which offers no new ideas.
It's not too late. In the coming week Netanyahu can still demand of his partners to prove that their patriotism is expressed in deeds as well as in words. Even if a broad government cannot be formed, Netanyahu and Lieberman have the ability to put together a fine cabinet. For example: Uriel Reichman as education minister instead of Friedmann as justice minister; a finance minister from outside politics, chosen for his or her professional abilities. He could appoint national councils for economic, foreign and education affairs. And a government of brilliant, talented people rather than small-minded extremists.
Netanyahu was raised and educated in the United States. No American president would dare enter the Oval Office with the people surrounding Bibi. No American president would attempt to govern without a great concept, without the ability to manage and without a top-rate team.
Israel is not America, but Israel is no shtetl, either. Israel has a great deal of talent. Israel's human capital is its greatest hope. If Netanyahu wants to succeed, he must enlist this capital and harness it to true vision.
Only with governmental excellence and a clear vision does Bibi have a chance of realizing his leadership potential. If he cannot deal with his weaknesses, Netanyahu will not be up to the tremendous task facing him.
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