Reprinted form The Jerusalem Post of December 31, 1998

NETANYAHU'S CHALLENGE

By Uri Dan & Dennis Eisenberg

The very destiny of the Jewish state could be decided within the next four months. Much rests on whether or not Binyamin Netanyahu can prove he is more than a glib TV performer. That he will cease dithering. And that he will make up his mind to combine oratory with positive action.

The insidious dangers of Israelis demeaning themselves, seeking outsiders to help solve their political problems, mount on all sides. Already Labor leader Ehud Barak leans heavily on American spin­doctors on how to persuade Israelis to vote for him. What need is there for foreigners ­ when he has a choice of five million fellow citizens who can give all the advice he needs for the next two thousand years. In this matter, Netanyahu too is guilty. CIA operatives check whether Arab terrorists have been imprisoned by Yasser Arafat as agreed at Wye River. Without much success it seems. They still "escape" with the greatest of ease.

The majority of Israelis in the national camp ­ stigmatized as "right wing" ­ have during the past two years been thrown into disarray by Netanyahu's persistent and fruitless pursuit of the "center" by speaking from both corners of his mouth at the same time. On the one hand, he claims he is determined to stand firm on Palestinians living up to their commitments to stop terrorism, arrest known killers of Jews, cease intifada­style street violence, surrender illegal arms and disarm the grossly overmanned Palestinian militia, which each passing day resembles a full­blown army. Yet this very week Netanyahu's lack of resolve was demonstrated at the Palestinian airport in Gaza where, by mutual agreement, Israeli security officials have the right ­ and duty ­ to check incoming planes. When the Palestinians refused to allow the security officials to examine an Egyptian plane, Israel gave way ­ and there was no check carried out or efforts made to resolve the mystery concerning reports of four unidentified passengers on the aircraft. When is Netanyahu going to stand firm on Israeli rights? Time is short ­ every day of supine lack of purpose and real leadership qualities could drive a nail into his political coffin.

IN essence, Netanyahu faces two major rivals for the premiership: Ehud Barak and Amnon Lipkin­Shahak. Both were highly successful army commanders ­ Barak in the Sayeret Matkal elite unit and Shahak, a paratroop commander. Both became chiefs of General Staff. But in truth neither made a deep impression in that role. Neither man came up with a military answer to the Lebanese problem. So there is precious little reason for either of them to even pretend they were of the same giant­like stature of a Yitzhak Rabin or Moshe Dayan in that role.

Barak's Operation Accountability in 1993 involving air strikes and Shahak's Grapes of Wrath onslaught by both artillery and air strikes, were failures. Neither of them came up with a military plan to handle the wave of suicide bombings after the Oslo Accords. Both Barak and Shahak are politically left wing. Both championed Rabin's Oslo Accords and were major figures in politicizing the armed forces. Barak has proved an ineffectual leader of the Labor Party. Shahak is yet to comment on anything, let alone on any issue which as a prospective prime minister is important to the country. Allied with them as a Netanyahu rival is Dan Meridor, a self­styled prince of the Likud who was and still is in a pique about not being granted greater honor by "his" party.

The onus of ensuring that Israel will continue to be a genuine sovereign state and have the courage and determination to stand up to external pressure now rests squarely on Netanyahu's shoulders. For a start, he must convince the voters who chose him two years ago that he will no longer treat them as idiots. For instance, he has repeatedly made tough speeches about Jerusalem remaining a united city with the right to build anywhere within its boundaries. But to this day, not a single foundation stone has been set in place in the Har Homa neighborhood. Netanyahu talks about his commitment to the settlements, but there has been less activity there in the past two years than under the previous Labor administration.

Netanyahu faces the biggest challenge of his life in the coming weeks. Not only personally, but as prime minister of Israel. Is he big enough and courageous enough to prove himself worthy of the title by bold decisions and deeds? That matters not only to him personally, but to every single man, woman and child who lives in this country.

(c) Jerusalem Post 1998


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