For weeks a worried Israeli citizenry has been hearing politicians from the leading parties call for a Broad National Unity Government because that is what the country needs and that is what they voted for. There can be no doubt that based on the election results a national unity government is the only logical course of action, but as the days turn into weeks and the country closes in on a full year of having a dysfunctional transitional government, the odds of a third round of elections increase. Ad nauseum, we hear the refrain that everyone needs to compromise. That is surely true if a national unity government would ever come into being. But is everyone being asked to compromise?
In the evolving blame game leading up to a potential election, both the Likud and Blue and White are building their cases. The Likud doesn’t miss an opportunity to blame Blue and White for not being willing to accept their block of 55 members of Knesset, saying that it is wrong for Blue and White to blanketly boycott full communities (in this case the Haredim). Blue and White blames the Likud for coming with pre-conditions with their 55 block and creating a smokescreen for their intentions to go to third elections. And of course there is the small issue of who will go first in the rotation and Blue and White’s lack of willingness to sit under a Prime Minister who may find himself under indictment…
Let’s be fair here. That the Likud put together the block of 55 the day after the election results were in was a legitimate political thing to do, though clearly not in the spirit of holding serious national unity talks with Blue and White. If it was meant to (or ultimately does) prevent the formation of a national unity government, the public will have to determine if and when we find ourselves in new elections. It clearly does, however, put a tremendous roadblock to negotiations without preconditions. But lets assume for the sake of argument that the Likud is sincere in its desire for a national unity government (as it claims), that it is willing to compromise around President Rivlin’s proposal (of a balanced government of ministers from both blocks even if theirs is larger) but that it can’t part from its block for political reasons. It would still make sense that those who make up the block would also need to do their share of compromising too for this to work. Would it not?
After all, conventional wisdom is that both Likud and Blue and White will have to make major compromises and go back on fundamental promises to their constituencies for this to work. The compromise will have to be about who goes first in the rotation, if a Prime Minister under indictment can still serve and for how long (assuming there is an indictment at all) and about the inclusion of the block itself. It has been reported (for what it’s worth) that Blue and White would be able to compromise on one of these issues, but not both, that is allow Netanyahu to go first but no block, or accept the block but for Ganz to go first. So, let’s assume for a moment there is no dissolving of the block as the Likud swears there won’t be. As the seconds tick off toward the doomsday clock of officially kicking off the next election campaign and as the desire (we assume) of responsible people to avoid that scenario goes up, the issue of the block will become a fait accompli. In such a scenario, why would only Blue and White and the Likud have to compromise? Shouldn’t the members of the block that Likud represents also have to compromise?
It is easy to forget that the reason we are all in this mess in the first place is because of the Draft Law. When the Supreme Court was going to force a decision on this highly sensitive topic and Netanyahu realized he couldn’t pass a law that would satisfy the court, he called new elections in December 2018. After the April elections, Avigdor Lieberman refused to join the coalition if the Draft Law was changed in any way from how it was passed in its first reading in the Knesset. And here we are after round two with a potential round three around the corner.
It is disingenuous (not to say highly unfair) of the Likud to claim Blue and White is boycotting an “entire community”. What Blue and White is asking to do is to reach a compromise on the highly sensitive religion and state issues before forming the government. This is not the same as boycotting the Haredi parties and certainly not the Haredi community. It is more than legitimate to try to resolve at least some of the outstanding issues on the table (and there are many) between the two largest parties.
But if that can’t be done, and if there is sincerity on both sides that another election would be a disaster for this country and neither party wants it, and if the block has to be part of the equation, than the Haredi party’s vetoes on these sensitive issues cannot be a given that prevents progress. They too will need to compromise. Maybe not on everything. But as the refrain goes (from Netanyahu to Ganz and back) “the election results shows that we can’t get everything we want”, that has to be true for the Haredi parties too. Perhaps it is the Draft Law, perhaps it is the Mitveh Hakotel, perhaps it is the Supermarket Law, perhaps it is the transportation on Shabbat law – but something has to give somewhere and this simply has not been part of the conversation so far.
By definition, compromise is harder for religious parties given their doctrinal beliefs. But there are ways around this from past experience – not be present for the vote, join the government after the laws have passed, be allowed to vote against the law, etc.. But the need to compromise on these issues, at least for part of them, is key.
On the assumption that everyone truly wants a national government because the alternative is worse (and I realize that is a huge assumption and one that I am not convinced the sides really believe) then the only way forward would be for everyone to compromise.
And the word “everyone” includes the Haredi parties too.