Alan Shatter

Israel needs a competent united government

Current Government Long Past Its Sell-By Date

Israeli politics for an outsider looking in have for decades been complex. Since the days when Israel’s Labour Party was the dominant political force,  coalition governments have been formed involving a variety of parties of different backgrounds and ideologies. They have included forceful and competing personalities, a mix of secular and religious, newly created and often temporary political formations, ultra orthodox and now messianic. The various parties and formations have had varied visions of Israeli interests, different perspectives on economic and social policy, the role of the rabbinate and conduct of international relations and competing perspectives about relationships with the diaspora, Israel’s allies and international organisations. Israeli governments can be perplexing formations impossible to easily depict or define. 

From the outside looking in, the toxic extreme rhetoric too frequently deployed by Israeli politicians, the egos and excessive ambition of personalities, the gratuitous demonising of political opponents, growing divisions within Israeli society, ever evolving protest movements, the occasional inappropriate, divisive, ill thought out and hurtful rhetoric of Israel’s Chief Rabbis, the greed and hubris of religious vested interests and the incapacity of some, within the political bubble, to competently address issues impacting Israel’s two million strong Arab sector, leave a sense of wonder that the country functions at all.

Israel’s economic success as the start up nation, its tech, pharmaceutical, security and defence industries, its contribution to medicine, science, the environment, the arts, television and film, ability to embrace difference and varied lifestyles, level of excellence within universities, the extraordinary growth of Israel’s population since 1948 and its cities and towns, its capacity to defend itself when under attack, its military strength and innovative defensive systems to some seem strangely detached from the somewhat chaotic political foundations and frenetic democracy on which they are anchored. Add to this the not yet mentioned complexity of the Israeli/ Palestinian conflict, Palestinian political division, Israel’s  warm and cold, overt and covert relations with neighbouring Arab states, the existence of a multiplicity of terrorist organisations, like Iran, the dedicated sponsor of many, intent on Israel’s destruction and Iran’s proximity to a destructive nuclear capacity and the range of problems and issues that daily need to be addressed present as overwhelming. 

But for Israel to both survive and thrive it’s government must competently function and cope with the multiplicity of issues and pressures with which it is daily confronted. On a war footing since the barbaric horrors of October 7, Israel’s need is a harmonious, united, competent government with clear realisable goals on which it is totally focused, a government of ministers of mutual respect who do not publicly squabble and exchange insults, a decisive  government able, with insight, to properly address and act on Israel’s security concerns and military needs. Israel also needs a government that unites and doesn’t divide the country, one not composed of politicians who deliberately, for perceived personal political benefit or just due to ignorance and stupidity, fan the flames of internal division, instigate and encourage the violation of Palestinian’s rights, bring Israel into international disrepute and denigrate Israel’s international allies. A competent Prime Minister who leads with clear agreed objectives, who does not promote divisive legislation or policies that alienate a large section of the Israeli public, whose judgement is trusted by ministerial colleagues and who is widely respected is also essential at a time of enormous difficulty, which includes the dreadful plight of 120 hostages held captive by Hamas since October 7, the ordeal of their families and the uncertainty as to their survival and wellbeing. 

For many who love Israel, recognise the importance of its role and continuing existence as the worlds only Jewish state, are publicly fighting for a better international understanding of the complexity of the Israel/ Palestinian conflict and Iran’s malign role, todays wars in which Israel is embroiled and its perilous current predicament and who are doing battle with the fabrications and partial truths of a hostile media and international political environment, it is the dysfunction and chaos at the heart of the current Israeli government and its continuing  incapacity to meet these needs and so behave that is not only demoralising but also a cause of growing concern and despair.

It is not unusual in democracies that political tensions between competing interests, values and visions surface and result in coalition governments politically imploding and the calling of a general election. What is unusual is that a coalition government that presents as already politically imploded remains in office. It doing so in wartime, while subject to a multiplicity of existential pressures and threats that could have devastating consequences, is not merely politically reckless but fundamentally undermines the foundations of constitutional representative democracy and the related concept of collective cabinet responsibility for the actions of government. 

No government anywhere on our planet is perfect and doesn’t make mistakes. No prime minister or government minister gets everything right all of the time. Nor do the military and security forces of any country. Nor are politicians prophets endowed with super powers which enable them to accurately predict all future events. However some events resulting from actions or inaction can be reasonably anticipated. Politicians, in particular those in all democratically elected governments, including Israel’s government, are expected to be knowledgable and to exercise some reasonable informed restraint, insight and judgement in governing, in their conduct and when making decisions which impact on the wellbeing of the country they serve and on the lives of those who live in it. With regard to Israel’s current government it is what publicly presents as the absence of knowledge and insight, an incapacity to intelligently engage, to make informed decisions, the incessant public bickering and political petulance, lack of  respect for basic norms of democratic governance, collective cabinet responsibility and the rule of law that is most damaging and dangerous. Dangerous because of the internal division that it foments and the weakness it portrays to Israel’s enemies.

In addition to the monumental failures relating to the October 7 attack and pogrom, the examples of dysfunction at the heart of Israel’s government are so numerous that only some require reference. They include:-

  1. A Prime Minister and government that ignores the advice of the state’s Attorney General and has normalised contesting it before the courts.
  2. A Prime Minister who publicly derides Israel’s closest international ally, President Biden, who has ensured Israel has had unprecedented political, financial and munitions support throughout the Israel/ Gaza conflict, came to Israel’s direct military aid when attacked by Iran and the Houthis, striven to assist in effecting the release of hostages, protected Israel from the adoption of hostile UN Security Council resolutions and done everything possible to facilitate an end to conflict.
  3. A Prime Minister and government incapable of agreeing a plan for the civil administration of Gaza to be implemented the day after conflict ends, for Israel’s continuing security to prevent a repetition of Oct 7 nor current administrative arrangements for areas under the control of the IDF to ensure Hamas does not reinstate its brutal rule. 
  4. A Prime Minister who engages in calculated public ambivalence and obfuscation for personal political survival on a deal to effect the release of hostages he has privately agreed, while making public comment that facilitates Hamas rejection of the deal.  
  5. A government that derides and persistently fails to implement judgements of Israel’s courts, remains dedicated to undermining their independence and is undermining the rule of law. 
  6. A Justice Minister who refuses to use existing procedures to appoint a permanent President to the Supreme Court and who presents as dedicated to undermining public confidence in the Court
  7. A Minister for National Security who due to his extremist views was excluded from involvement in the war cabinet prior to its recent dissolution, is excluded by the Prime Minister from strategic military decisions, is dedicated to undermining the police’s apolitical independence and interfering in police investigations, presides over a prison system in which prisoners are brutalised, assaulted and subject to inhumane treatment, incites illegality and violence against Palestinians on the West Bank by extremist settlers, praises and encourages police brutality directed at Israelis protesting government policy, advocates and excuses  attempts to block the delivery of aid the government is legally obliged to provide to Gaza and who, together with the Finance Minister, unrealistically advocates the creation of additional new settlements in the West Bank and their reinstatement and expansion in Gaza.
  8. A government intent on enacting a military service enlistment law dedicated to excluding the maximum number of Haredim from enlistment, unless prevented from doing so by Israel’s Supreme Court, while simultaneously promoting a law to extend the length of service of reservists, thereby further widening internal division between the secular and ultra orthodox. 
  9. A Prime Minister intent on enacting a Rabbis law, disowned by some members of his own party, facilitating the appointment of hundreds of rabbis across Israel by the Religious Service Ministry and the Chief Rabbinate without any input from local councils further exacerbating both political and religious division.
  10. A government that presents as being in a continuing state of turmoil containing ministers who clearly loath each other with a Prime Minister repetitively doing u-turns and permanently engaged in crises management focused on the governments and his own political survival.
  11. A government containing a Prime Minister and some ministers who present as oblivious to the detrimental international political and legal impact and impact on global Jewry of incendiary rhetoric perceived as domestically politically advantageous in the caldron of Israel’s competitive politics. 
  12. A government at war not just with Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Hizbollah, the Houthis and other smaller terrorist groups but also at war within itself on a variety of issues, containing a Prime Minister and Minister for Defence with contradictory insights and priorities, composed of members who  variously embrace, praise and deride the IDF and its leadership depending on the political exegesis of the moment. 
  13. A government whose Prime Minister is intent on an unachievable “ total victory” that envisages the complete magical disappearance of Hamas and who, for domestic political considerations, is afraid to acknowledge that the maximum beneficial outcome of the Israel/Gaza war is a permanent end to Hamas rule of Gaza and the dismantling of much of it’s military capabilities with the likelihood of a continuing insurgency until such time as its leadership, if ever, abandons its armed struggle and genocidal objectives.
  14. A government incapable of acknowledging that there are only ultimately two options for Israelis – sporadic never fully ending local wars together with continuing vulnerability to repetitive incidents of  Palestinian terrorism with the possibility of a future cataclysmic war with Iran or a graduated political settlement that ultimately implements an agreed form of a two state solution after some years of trust and peace building, direct engagement between Israeli and Palestinian leaders, Palestinian institutional reform, Israeli and Palestinian elections, reconciliation, deradicalization of  Palestinian society, a changed Palestinian school curriculum, an end to terrorism, including Jewish extremist terrorism of the hilltop youths and others and Palestinian demilitarisation. 

Israel’s government today is entirely dysfunctional and broken. As a former Irish government Minister for Justice, Equality & Defence and long standing member of the Dáil, a frequent visitor to Israel and the West Bank, a past  visitor to Gaza, a member of Ireland’s small Jewish community, a defender of Israel in public forums, an observer of Israeli politics for over 50 years and who until the ill conceived judicial reforms of the current government never publicly critically commented on Israel’s internal politics, I say to Prime Minister Netanyahu and the current Israeli government, you are long past your sell by date. For Israel’s sake and for the sake of the Jewish people urgently call an election. For gods sake go and bring this already politically imploded, discredited government speedily to its end.

Israel’s greatest need is not only that all hostages be released, Hamas & Hizbollah’s military strength be fundamentally degraded and that there is a permanent peace but also that a new government is rapidly elected with widespread public support, dedicated to better governance, the hostages release and a realistic plan for permanent resolution of the too long enduring Israeli/ Palestinian conflict and the Israel/ Gaza war.    

Alan Shatter

26 June 2024

About the Author
Alan Shatter is a former Irish Minister for Justice, Equality & Defence, a former chairperson of the Irish Parliaments Foreign Affairs Committee, a former member of the EU’s Council of Justice & Home Affairs Ministers & Council of Defence Ministers, a Fellow of the Israel Council on Foreign Relations, Chairperson of Magen David Adom Ireland, a retired solicitor advocate, author of academic legal works, novels and occasional and an occasional lecturer and broadcaster on legal issues and contemporary Irish domestic and international politics. The Israel Journal of Foreign Affairs is included amongst the publications for which he has written.
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