Elections are One Thing, Governing Another

It is clear that to govern effectively when the country itself is so divided, Bibi needs to tack toward the center in forming his governing coalition. And to this end, I think that his, and the country’s, best bet would be for him to form a centrist government with the Zionist Union (Labor) and with Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu. This would give the coalition 64 seats in the Knesset and would free Bibi from the threat of perpetual blackmail by the leaders of the smaller parties with which Bibi would have to contend if he chooses instead to cobble together a right-of-center coalition. Indeed, signs of how treacherous this process of forming a right-of-center government would be are already apparent. One reads today, for example, that Avigdor Lieberman is “demanding” to be Minister of Defense as his quid pro quo in exchange for becoming part of the coalition. And one can only imagine what Bennett will “demand” in exchange for his support. The Foreign Ministry? To give into such blackmail by such failed and scheming politicians, who have already been deserted by many of their voters who opted instead to vote for Likud, is a recipe for a short-lived reign of bad government that will prove destructive of Israel’s standing across the world.

So while it is true that both Herzog and Netanyahu have said today that they will not form nor join a national unity government, I hope these words may soon be superseded by their common interest in forming not a “national unity” government — that would include all the small parties from left to right — but a government of the “national center” that would be comprised of just Likud, Labor and Kulanu. Indeed, only such a government has a chance of being taken seriously in foreign capitals, in the Obama’s White House, and in Ramallah.

As for Bibi’s declaration that there will be no Palestinian state on his watch, it needs to be pointed out that this does not preclude his government’s negotiating toward a Palestinian state of some kind that might remain a state-in-formation, as it were, for a decade or more, before it would achieve the status of full statehood, which would indeed not come to complete fruition during Bibi’s watch. But for the Palestinians to negotiate at all with Bibi, they will need to see that the government which he heads is a government of the center. Otherwise, in the face of Bibi’s comments about no Palestinian state coming into existence on his watch, and in light of Bibi’s behavior in this regard over the past six years, neither the Palestinians nor the world community will have any interest at all in pursuing a “peace process” that appears to be nothing but a temporizing smokescreen which is intended to obfuscate what is really a road to nowhere. Moreover, as Bibi should well understand, if there is no credible peace process, the Arab streets will explode and the BDS movement is sure to spread like wildfire with ruinous consequences for the state of Israel.

For all of these reasons, which Bibi surely knows, a right-of-center government is a recipe for failure in every respect — domestic and international. Moreover, if Bibi has any concern for his historical legacy, as he surely must, he also knows that if he is forced to spend most of his time managing the demands of the unsavory and fractious leaders of the small parties of the right, he will accomplish nothing of note in what is quite likely to be his final term in office. Knowing this, as he must, I believe Bibi will soon approach Herzog and Kahlon to propose that these three parties alone form a new government.

Would this count as a betrayal of the voters who fled the smaller right wing parties to vote for him? To some degree, it might. But Bibi’s obligation is to serve the country as a whole and its long term best interest.

Having shown himself to be a consummate politician in the past week, he must now pivot to become the statesman which he really wants to be. But he cannot rise to this role if he is hamstrung by the small bore politics that will consume him, and all of his time, if he forms a coalition of the center-right. Certainly he knows all of this to be true. The real question is whether he will now act decisively on the basis of this knowledge.

About the Author
Trained as a political theorist at Columbia University and in Religious Studies at Harvard, Michael Gottsegen (Ph.D., 1989) has worked in and out of academia since the early 1990s, having taught at Columbia and Brandeis before coming to Brown. A book based on his thesis, "The Political Thought of Hannah Arendt," was published in 1994.