If you want a government, prepare for elections

Time flies. About half a year, to be almost exact. Half a year ago I would have written the same thing. Another election. No clear path to a stable government, no sign of compromise by the political system, no way forward. The World goes on. Covid-19, Iran, Syria. In Israel, we are in an unending debate. We can’t even agree with what the results of the last elections signify. Netanyahu won? Netanyahu lost? Not clear. We want a government.  We should prepare for elections.

The issues, or rather the lack of substance of the argument remains the same. The Likud and the Right bloc want Netanyahu to remain as Prime Minister and everyone else wants him out. Now 62 MKs agree at least to “No Bibi” (down from 65 from the last election). Whether they can agree to anything else isn’t so clear. There is even a fair chance that Benny Gantz will form a minority government with outside support from the Joint List or even the Joint List and Yisrael Beiteinu (anything Liberman decides would not surprise me). The calculus is clear (enough).

With 62 supporters, Gantz can change the speaker of the Knesset, form a minority government and reconvene the Knesset committees. Such a government, even if it fell after a no-confidence vote, would continue as an interim government until the next election. Half a year or even a year (doubtful) isn’t a long period, but it is long enough to sideline Netanyahu and give  Gantz needed exposure as Prime Minister instead of his present position as some claimant of the throne. From the perch of Prime Minister and Netanyahu out of power,  he could, in theory, try to fracture the opposition, enlarge the government and make and stabilize his hold on power. In theory.

Most likely not. Most likely any minority government will fall as soon as the opposing component parts rip it apart at its seams on any of numerous issues. An escalation in Gaza,  permits for “family reunification”, the Kamenetz Law, or changes in the rights for pensions. There is no lack of issues where Liberman and Odeh can disagree upon. And the Likud?  They will have little reason to support a Gantz government, regardless of who leads the Likud and whatever the issue.

As for a unity government, neither side really wants one. Without unity of purpose, there can be no unity in action and the antagonism and ego will make any unity government a temporary affair. Reports that Blue and White would demand three or four of the major ministries in a Netanyahu led government are probably only a ruse to instigate a revolt amongst the senior Likud ministers so that they agree to depose Netanyahu. If politics is like was (figuratively) then ruses and stratagems are par for course.

So, the Likud should prepare for elections. So should the Jewish Home Party. In fact, already last week the Likud was calling for a meeting to cancel primaries in case of new elections. Understandably there is little funding for new primaries, most of the now elected MKs probably have unpaid debts from the last primary cycle, yet in my opinion, canceling primaries is a mistake. Both the Jewish Home Party and the Likud have a history of primaries and while the current trend is to choose the list by diktat – think Liberman or Lapid, primaries give any list an aura of legitimacy and democracy. Both parties should think also of placing and Israeli Arab in a near realistic slot.

The strong showing of the Joint List is the elephant in the corner of the room that no one can afford to ignore.  To be clear: Israeli Arabs are, or should be,  full citizens and must be included in the government. But not the Joint List. The Joint List is led by politicians that deny the Jewish character of the State of Israel, oppose national service in any form and believe that Zionism is a form of colonialism. They are disqualified to sit in a government in the same way that Ben Ari, Gophstein or Ben Gvir of Otzma are. By their positions on what Israel should be.  Still, some alternative is imperative, and including Arab Israelis in a Zionist party that can proudly sing “HaTikva” (and there are many that can) is in order. As for the Arab voters, they need to know that the ability of the Joint List to extort without a genuine desire to consort will them without a voice in any Zionist government.

There is still time for both Gantz and Netanyahu to strive for a real unity government, one where real compromise can happen. Perhaps the threat of new elections will make compromise even palatable. If not, democracies have no need to fear elections, even multiple elections. And who knows, maybe the fourth elections will be the charm.

PS.  I looked up two quotes and I am glad that I did. The first from Vegetius: Epitome of Military Science, By Flavius Vegetius Renatus.  While clearly, politics is not war, there is a strategy of succeeding in politics which should motivate politicians to think ahead to see what present steps will achieve in the longer term. Truly, with someone like Avigdor Liberman, it is difficult for me what his long term goals are.

The other quote is from Clausewitz: (see JAMES HOLMES, Everything You Know About Clausewitz Is Wrong)

“We maintain…that war is simply a continuation of political intercourse, with the addition of other means. We deliberately use the phrase ‘with the addition of other means’ because we also want to make it clear that war in itself does not suspend political intercourse or change it into something entirely different [my italics]. In essentials that intercourse continues, irrespective of the means it employs.

In short, Israel has divided itself into two opposing camps and elections are just part of the dialogue we need to resolve our differences and or get to a (temporary) resolution. Again, best if some compromise will be reached and additional elections avoided, but as said, elections are the lifeblood of democracies and nothing to fear.

About the Author
Shlomo Toren has been a resident of Israel since 1980, and a transportation planner for the last 25 years. He has done demand modeling for the Jerusalem Light Rail and Road 6. He is married to Neera and lives in Shiloh.
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