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Analysis: Inside Netanyahu's head

So, does the Israeli prime minister have issues with internal conflict?

JERUSALEM — In Hebrew the word for “to visit” — levaker — is the same as the word for “to criticize.” He visited me; he criticized me. Exactly the same.

So why would you invite 30 of the most critical people in the country to visit you every Sunday, to sit around your table and run their mouths?

You wouldn’t. Unless you wanted trouble.

That’s exactly what the new Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has done. Each Sunday, an enormous cabinet — more than half the parliamentarians in the governing coalition are ministers and deputy ministers — will troop up the stairs to his office, preening for the cameras before they settle into their caramel leather chairs and let rip at the boss.

This wasn’t supposed to happen.

Last time he was Prime Minister — from 1996 to 1999 — Netanyahu held together a shaky coalition of rightists and hawkish centrists as long as he could. The religious-nationalists in the cabinet brought him down in the end.

Bruised he went into exile as a “consultant” for companies doing business in the U.S. He returned rich, bought a villa in the exclusive Mediterranean town of Caesarea, and gradually eased back into the politics of the Likud Party. His message, delivered in private in those days, was that he had learned his lesson. He was a different man. For a time he even tried to get people to stop calling him by his childhood nickname, “Bibi.”

One of the reasons the far right abandoned him in 1999 was, according to legislators, that he would always promise whatever you wanted, trying to make you happy, to make you like him. Then he’d contradict himself by pledging to do whatever the next person to enter his office wanted. When he returned to politics, Netanyahu said, he would no more be manipulated into giving tiny parties just what they demanded.

Take a look at this new government and you have to wonder if that’s true.