Any rookie prime minister knows that he must not arouse great expectations when he is already in office and is not in the midst of an elections campaign. Commentators love no other cliché more than they love to say that someone “started with a bang and ended with a whimper.”
This cliché as well as similar ones are lying in wait for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, if and when he fails to realize the expectations of his speech at Bar-Ilan University.
Whose expectations are we talking about? Well, this goes to the heart of the matter. US President Barack Obama’s expectations and special Mideast Envoy George Mitchell’s expectations are not the same as the expectations of right-wing Israeli politicians such as Michael Ben-Ari, Uri Ariel, and Yuli Edelstein.
The applause we will hear on one side will be as loud as the boos on the other side – but who will be on each side?
Bibi faces crossroads
Netanyahu, who is completely American, has been pushed into a corner by the US president. At his senior post, Bibi needs to decide whether he will be looking back (with anger?) at his father, the education he received at home, and the Jabotinsky doctrine, or whether he will be looking forward (with hope?) to the title of “greatest peace-maker” in modern Jewish history, thereby joining the likes of David Ben-Gurion, Menachem Begin, and Yitzhak Rabin (and possibly Ariel Sharon as well, had he been able to continue.)
Netanyahu is at a crossroads at this time; he may face the most important moment of his political career. He will make the gravest mistake if he tries, as is the custom with him, to appease everyone: Appease one side a little and the other side as well. Appease here and appease there. Appease the fans of the Greater Land of Israel as well as Peace Now members. Appease Barack Obama a little, while also appeasing Likud MK Tzipi Hotovely a little. If he does that, Netanyahu will lose his political stature.
Perhaps Netanyahu will draw support for this grave mission by glancing at the photos of two leaders that are likely hanging at the academic center where he will deliver his speech – The Begin-Sadat Center – leaders who had books written about them rather than footnotes.