Gideon Levy
Haaretz (Opinion)
August 11, 2011 - 12:00am

What's left of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu? What remains of his ideas and worldview? To judge by his statements - nothing whatsoever. The man who was portrayed as an ideological statesman, a writer and a thinker, the man whose views some pundits have vied with one another to worship, has been left denuded of his ideas, backpedaling on his entire doctrine.

He should be praised for his flexibility, but we should also ask, if this is the way things are, what do we need him for? If he has given up all his ideas and adopted others instead, why not go straight to the source, to the people who held another ideology all along?

It began with the Bar-Ilan speech. The Greater Land of Israel disappeared, at least in words; the great dream dissipated. True, Netanyahu didn't put anything from that speech into action, but he drew back completely from his ideas, explicitly conceding that he had made a historic mistake.

Right after that, he folded another flag - the war against Iran. Netanyahu has made an international career out of that, and here Iran is, going about its business, with Netanyahu's Israel doing almost nothing about it. That flag has been put in storage along with another - the war on terror.

And another specialty of "Mr. Terror" has become irrelevant: The Palestinians have realized that terror doesn't move their agenda ahead so they've chosen another path, completely unconnected to Netanyahu and his policies, perhaps despite his policies. Israel's greatest hawk has become a passive observer from the sidelines - not doing much, certainly not in making his ideas a reality, and even conceding that he was mistaken about them.

All right, we've said that in foreign affairs and security Netanyahu realized that he has to be in sync with at least some part of the world, at least with some part of reality, so he has given up his impossible ideas. If he had also applied his lessons learned, we could praise him. But of course he has done nothing, only folded his flags and sunken into do-nothing impotence.

But he still had the economy - his second area of expertise. Here, too, his ideas and doctrine are well-known. He even implemented some of them when he was finance minister; reducing the public sector, corporate tax and income tax was close to his heart. But amazingly he's backing off from that too, shedding all his neoliberal and capitalist feathers. Now he says the opposite should be done, the very opposite.

It's only words. To Prof. Manuel Trajtenberg he said: "I understand a change in my views is needed." In support of his statement, he told Trajtenberg that he had read a new book about Theodor Herzl, that Herzl also changed his opinions. "I'm talking about a fundamental change in your positions," the professor said, and the prime minister said yes. Thus did Netanyahu pledge that he had changed his views. The socioeconomic doctrine he fostered is gone, too.

Yes, it may be justifiably claimed that Netanyahu is only talking the talk. He only wants to satisfy America - that's why he sold his statesman's soul for pennies. He only wanted to satisfy Trajtenberg, so he sold his socioeconomic doctrine for a mess of pottage.

But when the prime minister talks, his statements mean something. There are only two possibilities. Either Netanyahu is all talk and doesn't intend to change things and change himself. If that's the case we have a prime minister who is misleading and tricking us, and we should get rid of him quickly. Or he really does intend to cast off everything he has preached for years. If so, why do we need him, of all people? Let's elect someone who was right all along.

Maybe we'll find, as some small measure of comfort, that Netanyahu has impressive organizational skills. That at least he'll be a good manager for us. Oops, half his office has resigned, and the other half is on the way. He's not a good manager either.

Well, at least maybe he's a media wizard, as he has been dubbed. But Israel's international standing, especially that of its government, leaves no room for doubt about that. He understands nothing about public relations. The fact is, no one in the world still buys his goods, even when they're marketed in his highly polished English. So what do we have left? What's left of Netanyahu? Nothing, nothing at all.


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