Likud Beytenu. We have now had a night to sleep on it. The news, just as those of the Likud-Kadima coalition 6 months earlier, threw me for a loop. After initial shock and annoyance about once again being hoodwinked by our leaders, I thought about it. What does this newly formed Likud Beytenu mega party mean for Israeli politics?
It didn’t take long to realize some of the long-term ramifications of this sonic boom felt across politics, quite smart Mr. Netanyahu, Mr. Liberman. You just pulled off one of the potentially greatest impetus’ for change in Israeli politics since the famed Mahapecha of 1977.
The immediate and short-term ramifications are clear. It is close to impossible for the Left and Center to topple the new right in the upcoming elections. Together the two parties currently hold over 1/3 of the seats in Knesset, Likud: 27 and Israel Beytenu: 15. With numbers like these, it will be much easier to push the Likud Beytenu agenda in the 19th Knesset. It is certainly a frustrating setback to the Center and Left. And for the Haredi and smaller parties.
This may be the first time that the Right is able to push real agenda without the chokehold of the swing vote, a part and parcel aspect of coalition politics. The right-wing haredi parties can more or less consider their reign of power reigned in. This government will have what may be the first opportunity to forward the pluralism so desperately needed here in Israel.
Until now, this was almost impossible to attain due to the disproportionate power allotted to appeasing the small parties in the coalition. Occasional battles are won for pluralism through the hard efforts of bodies such as the Israel Religious Affairs Center (IRAC), but for the most part, the current system is rigid and inflexible, and most Israelis are not satisfied.
As for the long-term, this move is forcing an immediate evolution onto our political system. The unity of Israel Beytenu and Likud means more stability in coalition politics and in the political Right. They are also establishing a premise that can change the way politics is done in Israel. I do not believe that the Left will be able to get itself together in time for the January elections, however for future elections, the parties on the Left and Center too will need to solidify and merge, thus stabilizing the political Left.
Last June, I wrote a piece regarding a question I asked President Peres. The President side-stepped my question entirely which, in retrospect, had only questioned a symptom of something much greater, in order to discuss the cause. It took me this long to figure that out. What I did realize immediately however, was that President Peres’ non-answer, answered my question perfectly.
“The question was fairly simple, and I had expected a response that was just as simple: “What do you feel is the likelihood for grassroots organizations to succeed in effecting policy change within the modern Israeli political system?”
Easy enough, no? No. This is Israel.
The President of Israel launched into an all out monologue of the need for electoral reform within the Israeli governmental system.”
Our entire government electoral system must be reformed, he explained; I had innocently asked whether grassroots organizations could succeed to influence within the realm of our current political system. I never received a yes or no answer, what I received was a passionate response for the need of an overhaul of the entire government electoral system.
There has been a strong push to reform the electoral system for years. Today, Yesh Sikui (Israel’s Hope) is a current leader of the battle for reformation of the government system. Yet these movements for reform go back at least 25 years. As one reader informed me following that same article:
” I remember standing on street corners in the sun, heat, cold and rain over a period of almost a year getting people to sign petitions demanding change in the electoral system back the 1980s. I also remember the then Prime Minister’s (Itzhak Shamir) reaction when the petitions, with over a million voters’ signatures, were placed on his desk.
With no shame, he answered the question on Mabat with the statement that he was amazed that the public was trying to interfere with matter[s] that didn’t concern it. That just about expresses, in a nutshell, what Israeli politicians think of their electorates.”
Not only does our society want to create change in the political system, but we require it in order to fulfill the needs of the many over the desires of the few. This move is forcing our government towards political change. By uniting the two largest parties on the right, the Left has no choice but to do the same, thus creating a stronger, more solid and stabler balance of power, leading to more unified platforms and agendas on both political Right and Left in the long run.
Hypothetically, this would also mean that the smaller parties will need to either become more flexible, unite to create an orthodox bloc and hope to gain enough votes, or resort to disappearing into the abyss of failed political parties. There is no doubt that this merge will result in the loss of some voters for both parties and those votes may well go to the Center and religious parties, as central party members from Likud stated to Ynet; however I do not personally foresee the loss of such a large percentage of voters to effectively hinder the party’s/ ies’ Prime Ministerial and Knesset ambitions and enhanced leverage in the upcoming elections.
The long-term ramifications of this on a national scale can be immense, stable future governments, more proportionate power allotted to political parties, leading to pluralistic policies and a simmering of the current crisis plaguing Israeli society between our Jewish brothers today. A grim, current landscape of the situation can be found in the newly released Religion and State Index 2012 (Summary available here). By individual request, I am happy to forward the complete version.
This move has shaken up Israeli politics and there are going to be many strong initial reactions to the merge on all sides. This bold move has forced, rather than pushed or gently forwarded, the initial change needed to spark political reform in the government system. The announcement has thrown many off balance, but its consequences may well propel our country out of the dark ages of coalition politics and into an age of political (somewhat) security, and may even offer our government and country the chance to finally breathe freely.
Yisrael Beytenu is following through with its stated platform and has begun to actively create the change in government system. They stand strongly behind their ideologies and deserve credit for that. I concede, the manner in which change is being enabled is not soft, but it does follow in the party’s agenda. I didn’t catch it when Yair Shamir was so smoothly transitioned into Yisrael Beytenu, nor when he made this remark earlier in the week, “Yisrael Beytenu is the Likud Party’s anchor. Both parties come from the same home“. The hint was dropped, nobody took the bait. The party also gained itself an unprecedented amount of political strength. This may also give Yisrael Beytenu the long needed PR makeover to prove itself as the party of all olim, far deeper than the general public’s stigma of Beytenu as the “Russian” party.
Regarding Bibi, I would like to believe that his intentions are also deeper than political survival and have the better interest of our country in mind. I know he has talked the talk in the past and he has taken present action, my hope is that he follows through with the process to the end. If so, quite a move!
This unification of Yisrael Beytenu and Likud has taken close to 100% of us by surprise, both within and outside of politics. It is very reminiscent of the Likud-Kadima coalition, less the factor that this one actually has a chance of forever changing the face of Israeli politics.
This may, in fact, be a good day, heralding new and warranted direction in Israeli politics.
* Personal disclaimer: My opinions are premised upon a successful integration of Likud and Israel Beytenu. Failure or partial integration will likely null the long term effects of this essential political initiative.