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Monday, April 03, 2006

Where did he fail?

Although I don't agree with a lot of it, I think this analysis is important to read as a starting point. Where I part company with Amotz Asa-el is that he thinks that Bibi Netanyahu could have done things differently. My view is that it was inevitable that populist sentiment would very strongly oppose Netanyahu's reforms. While the extent of the resentment could not be measured (nor could Sharon's splitting the Likud by forming Kadima Achora be predicted until it was too late for Netanyahu to do anything about it), I think it was clearly in line to happen because of the reforms Netanyahu carried out. However, the criticism about not cutting taxes fast enough is valid (although Netanyahu could not unilaterally cut taxes). The sad part is watching the gloating hypocrites of Kadima Achora who have conveniently 'forgotten' that they were in the cabinet that voted in favor of the economic plan.

Meanwhile, in meetings with Ariel Sharon in those days I tried to learn about the prime minister's thoughts on Netanyahu in general, and his reforms in particular. He had nothing bad to say of the man who had not long before challenged him for the Likud's leadership, and in fact added that Bibi "is working very hard, knows what he is doing, and is doing the right things." All that was back in the prehistoric times when disengagement had yet to be unveiled, maybe even conceived, when Sharon's government still included Effi Eitam, Benny Elon and Avigdor Lieberman. Back then, Sharon and Netanyahu had a deal, whereby the PM would focus on military and foreign affairs while the treasurer focused on the economy, and neither interfered in the other's affairs. The two abided by their deal, until Sharon threw his bombshell, in an interview with Haaretz's Yoel Marcus. Historians will doubtfully ever find written evidence of this, but suspicions that part of Netanyahu's subsequent frustration was related to his having apparently learned of the plan from the media will be difficult to dismiss.

In any event, from that moment on Netanyahu's political time was fast running out, just when his accomplishments at the Treasury were becoming universally admired. Soon enough, just when the shekel restabilized, employment expanded, privatizations accelerated, the pension reform was completed, foreign investments began soaring, the banking reform was introduced and the seaports were decoupled, Netanyahu was compelled to set aside the pie-charts, graphs and histograms that had become his daily staple, in order to turn his binoculars on what was approaching from beyond the horizon. Eventually, his ideological, strategic, social and tactical analysis of his situation proved disastrous.

IDEOLOGICALLY, Netanyahu was not supposed to have much of a dilemma. Having previously parted with Hebron, he said all along he did not dispute Sharon's view that Gaza was not to be retained. His misgivings, all in the realms of timing, cost and effectiveness, were instrumental. Still, having concluded that the retreat would only result in more violence, he felt a need to voice his concern much the way Churchill did prior to 1939. This is nothing to scoff at, particularly in light of what Gaza is indeed spewing at us even as this sentence is being written.


Still, Netanyahu's reforms could have been more universally appreciated even by the time he left the Treasury, had he been as swift and resolute about tax cuts as he was about his other reforms. Had value-added tax, income tax or sales taxes on cars been cut faster and deeper, Netanyahu would not have been staring down the biographical abyss at which he has now arrived. The way he handled himself, he ended up losing the historic Likud's populist electorate to Eli Yishai, and its capitalist portion to Avigdor Lieberman.


Netanyahu is probably the only aspiring prime minister in history, certainly in Israel, who rejected a premiership served on a silver platter. He did that in 2001, when - in the wake of Ehud Barak's resignation - the Right passed special legislation to enable his running, despite his having not been at the time a lawmaker. Netanyahu did so because he saw no sense in governing without a solid parliamentary base. It was a fair concern, but, as it were, Ariel Sharon eventually demonstrated it was an obstacle that could have been surpassed. Even more ominously, with terror raging at the time the way it did it was no time to fuss over concerns such as Netanyahu was voicing. [This WAS a mistake. But except that it put Sharon in power, I don't think it had anything to do with THIS election defeat. CiJ]
Read it all.


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