Thursday, November 26, 2009

Yossi Verter/ Two B's or not two B's- The Consensus leader discovering how strong he is!

Yossi Verter-Haaretz)....Every day Prime Minister Netanyahu is discovering anew how strong he is: He declared his support for two states for two peoples, he is suspending in practice - and as of this week, also formally - construction in the territories, and he apparently intends to resume peace talks with the Palestinians. During his short tenure as prime minister, the Likud's relations with the right and the settlers have been perhaps irrevocably torn apart. He has succeeded in crossing these Rubicons with minimal damage. And the internal opposition he is dealing with is laughable: MKs Tzipi Hotovely, Danny Danon and Yariv Levin.

If Netanyahu makes a major diplomatic move vis-a-vis the Palestinians, the Syrians, or both - an increasingly reasonable assumption - he will win considerable public support, like former prime minister Ariel Sharon did during the Gaza Strip disengagement. In such a case, he might well take advantage of the momentum to split the Likud again, taking with him a third of the faction members including ministers, just as Sharon did in November 2005, to establish a New Likud along with Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who will likely be glad to leave the Labor Party with its huge debts and terrible image.

Thus, on the wake of a popular and groundbreaking diplomatic agreement, Netanyahu and Barak will step into the shoes worn by Sharon and Shimon Peres four years ago, with the elderly Peres, now president, as sponsor.

The cooperation between Netanyahu and Barak is deeper and far more meaningful than the usual relations between a prime minister and a defense minister; some people think Barak has been hoping for this from the moment he entered the government. A government of B's - Bibi and Barak - may be his last opportunity to succeed Netanyahu as prime minister.

As for the latter, in less than a year he has shed all his principles in favor of a new and far more pragmatic route. Today's Likud is becoming more centrist, which is evident in the latest public opinion polls: Labor is losing votes to Kadima, which is losing votes to Likud, which is losing votes to the National Union. Netanyahu has considerable support - more than U.S. President Barack Obama - from the center left and the moderate right.

Benjamin Netanyahu, the politician who has written more than anyone else and preached more than anyone else against freeing jailed terrorists in exchange for hostages, will likely henceforth be identified, eternally, with what is being called "the Shalit deal," over kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit. He, who has written books about the war on terror, is about to do, and in effect already has done, something that contradicts and refutes everything he has written.

Since taking office less than a year ago, Netanyahu's principles and declarations of the past have been put to the test repeatedly, and each time anew, reality emerges victorious. In 1995, before he was elected prime minister for the first time, the first edition of his book "A Place under the Sun" was published by Yedioth Ahronoth Books. That was 10 years after the Jibril deal, when the unity government headed by Peres released 1,150 Palestinian prisoners and detainees in return for three Israeli captives.

Netanyahu also described in his book a letter he wrote to then-Likud leader Yitzhak Shamir, Peres' partner in the unity government. Perhaps a few individuals were rescued as part of the Jibril deal, he wrote Shamir, but it is clear that this has been done at the price of many people who are fated to die because of this decision. A state has to act judiciously, above all for the benefit of the collective, Netanyahu noted, adding that he saw no possibility of justifying this step as being beneficial that way.

Associates of the prime minister describe him as being composed and cool these days. He apparently made the strategic decision to end the Shalit affair several weeks ago. Since then, he has been managing things directly vis-a-vis mediator Hagai Hadas. His only full partner to the secret in the Prime Minister's Bureau is his military secretary, Maj. Gen. Meir Kalifi. Another full partner is Barak. Some people say Peres is also being briefed down to the slightest detail.

This troika, Netanyahu, Barak and Peres - "the prime ministers' club," among whom there was once only bad blood - is now managing the State of Israel's most sensitive matters in glowing harmony, and without false notes.

On the eve of the change in government less than a year ago, negotiations between Israel and Hamas had reached a critical stage. The headlines were similar to those that appeared this week. Outgoing prime minister Ehud Olmert was facing a crucial decision. A year earlier, Netanyahu had agreed to Olmert's request that the then-opposition leader would not thwart any agreement reached with Hamas over Shalit. Netanyahu was even prepared to delay the swearing-in of his government for a few days to give Olmert another chance to close the deal. Netanyahu was as heartbroken as Shalit's battalion of friends at the news that the negotiations had failed.

The media wrote at the time about the "new right-wing government, with which the negotiations will be much harder." Yet, according to foreign sources, Netanyahu has moved things along much further than his predecessor dared. So much so that knowledgeable sources are saying that Olmert believes Netanyahu has conceded too much. However, as long as the negotiations are under way, Olmert is not going to say a word.

At the Likud faction meeting on Monday, Netanyahu announced that when the deal has been completed it will be brought to the cabinet and the Knesset. The following day, during a tour of National Police Headquarters in Jerusalem, he declared it would be brought to the cabinet and "for public discussion."

The prime minister is not obligated to bring the Shalit deal before the Knesset. It is enough to bring it to his ministers, who will likely give him a majority. Even ministers from his party who vote against it will do so only if they are certain he will not lose the vote.

Before Netanyahu places the decision on the Knesset table, he would like to see 70 Knesset members - at least - supporting it, versus 10 to 15 opponents. Therefore, and with the requisite secrecy, his envoys have been feeling out the various factions and examining what can be expected in the plenum.