Its time for Netanyahu to reflect

Even if Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu flexes his political muscle and prevents his government from falling, this week's Knesset vote to dissolve the legislature sends a loud and clear message.

Netanyahu's handling of the peace process has led to major disenchantment — among opposition members and members of the governing coalition alike.

The Knesset's preliminary approval of a bill to dissolve itself and force new elections ahead of their scheduled date in the year 2000 only marks a preliminary step.

Before the Knesset could disband, the measure still faces three additional votes, the outcome of which is far from certain.

Still, the early elections bill marks a crisis for Netanyahu, one that should force him to seriously reflect on his decisions of the past two years.

Netanyahu, of course, has faced — and overcome — threats to his government before.

Indeed, at times, it seems the Israeli premier has nine lives. Even in the face of profound criticism and opposition, both domestic and international, he manages to survive.

The Likudnik is not easily daunted.

But dissatisfaction with the stalled peace process is only growing stronger among the Israeli public and the politicians who represent it. Netanyahu's repeated negotiating sessions with the Palestinians seem to spin 'round and 'round, accomplishing little.

As a result, Netanyahu may find it harder than ever to bargain with fellow politicians for the support needed to keep his coalition together. Surely he will spend his three-month recess, which began this week, trying.

But he should also spend his break engaging in some serious soul-searching. Otherwise he may find himself out of work.