When the Labour party bolted from Israel's ruling coalition, a new political era promised to unfold, with opportunity for a fresh, new direction to move the country forward on the road to peace and prosperity. With Ariel Sharon at the helm, Shaul Mofaz in the role of Defense Minister, and former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the post of Foreign Minister, there was for a brief while, the welcome possibility of Israel being led by an "all-star Dream Team" of the political Right. But, in the Middle East it is difficult sometimes to bet even on a sure thing, much less hang hopes on the mercurial machinations of Israeli politics.
Ariel Sharon, Shaul Mofaz and Benjamin Netanyahu are, to a great extent, unified in their basic political outlook. They hail from a long and distinguished line of steadfast Zionist role models like Ze'ev Jabotinsky, Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Shamir and the like.
As a result of repeated attempts by the Arab world to destroy Israel, they have all learned firsthand that the prerequisite for peace in the Middle East must be based on uncompromising and irrevocable security guarantees. In this regard, they concur that only a de-fanged and de-clawed Palestinian entity can be allowed to exist alongside Israel.
Yet, at the same time, the three leaders have come to understand that to navigate the State of Israel through the treacherous waters of international pressures, they must take a pragmatic approach. Despite rhetoric to the contrary, their positions now greatly reflect those of Labour's standard bearer, the late Yitzhak Rabin.
Rabin, now praised by rulers of the Arab world like Hosni Mubarak, King Hussein Junior, and leaders of the Western world, offered a realistic platform for peace with the Palestinians: First, there was to be no Palestinian State. Rather, Rabin agreed only to a Palestinian entity with the ambiguous status of "autonomy plus." Second, there was to be a complete end to Palestinian terrorism, and both parties were required to fulfill their obligations before forging ahead with further Israeli concessions.
Surprisingly, much of Rabin's views are now adopted by Likud leaders like Sharon and Netanyahu, while the Labour party's current Leftist positions would have been utterly rejected by Rabin. In fact, it could be argued that Sharon's position has moved even more to the Left than that of Rabin, as Sharon publicly stated that that he would support the establishment of a Palestinian State -- unlike Rabin's refusal to do so.
Nonetheless, there are complications arising with the formation of Israel's Dream Team. Benjamin Netanyahu, although hard at work to return to the leadership limelight, is less than eager to play second fiddle to Ariel Sharon. On the contrary, Netanyahu is poised to run for the position of Prime Minister as a replacement for Sharon. But Netanyahu's bid for reelection is a risky one.
Despite Netanyahu's polished style and considerable charisma, his Achilles' Heel is his lack of ability to hold on to a fractious cabinet. Bibi finds it extremely difficult to cater to the multitude of special interest groups, whose selfish and petty agendas often conflict with Netanyahu's vision, as well as being constantly at odds with each other.
Netanyahu also has a disadvantage of wanting to micromanage Israel's policies. Although he is Israel's best technical spokesperson, he often forgets that he is the leader of a team comprised of accomplished professionals, who must be given the authority to act on their own according to agreed guidelines. Instead, Bibi alienated several of his cabinet members by attempting to marginalize them and take over their "big picture" duties, while expecting them to carry out the behind-the-scenes low-level work. Naturally, Netanyahu's government was brought down in short order by the equivalent of a ministerial mutiny.
But Netanyahu is a particularly intelligent man. He has taken the lessons of his past to heart and has vowed to act differently in the future. Will Netanyahu do as he says, and change his strategy? His political opponents believe they are still dealing with the "old" Bibi and his host of leadership flaws. However, the ongoing wrangling over his acceptance of Sharon's offer of the position of Defense Minister may yield some clues.
Nothing New Under the Sun
Netanyahu has learned that a narrow majority in Knesset will expose the ruling party to endless blackmail from its smaller coalition partners. Already, parties like Shas and Moledet have presented exhaustive lists of unwelcome â€“ and unrealistic -- demands in exchange for their cooperation. And there is every reason to believe that their demands will only escalate if Likud needed to rely on them for political survival.
Although Netanyahu may have learned his lessons well and may now be a changed man, the system of Israeli politics has not changed at all since his first tenure. The same self-centered fringe groups are still circling the skies like vultures waiting to feed on the weakness of a narrow majority government. And it is precisely this trap that the seasoned Netanyahu seeks to avoid by calling for early elections at a time when Likud is at an all-time peek in its popularity. The more Knesset seats Likud wins in a general election, the fewer concessions will need to be made to Israel's political extortionist parties.
This is why the all-star political Dream Team of Sharon, Netanyahu and Mofaz, while seemingly a natural fit, bears its share of complications. And, until there is substantial reform of the parliamentary system, to implement a system that guarantees stability for at least a full-term in office, Israel's leadership will never be able to reach its potential. It will never be able to provide the level of civil service which the Israeli taxpayer, rightfully, deserves.