National crisis with a broken political system

Lawmakers at the swearing-in of the 25th Knesset, November 15, 2022. (Noam Moskowitz/Knesset Spokesperson)
Lawmakers at the swearing-in of the 25th Knesset, November 15, 2022. (Noam Moskowitz/Knesset Spokesperson)

The State of Israel is currently experiencing an unprecedented crisis since its establishment. In medical terms, it would be described as suffering from multi-system failure: a military conflict on multiple fronts without a clear exit strategy; an internal political crisis and a loss of confidence in the current leadership; a deep value-based fracture in society due to the attempted judicial overhaul; the issue of the hostages; the ultra-Orthodox draft crisis; a crisis in relations with the US and the rest of the world following the ongoing war in Gaza; initial signs of a deep economic crisis in view of the situation; and above all the fact that Israel today lacks an inspiring leadership and hope for a future that will present a vision, a policy and a path out of the crisis.

The Israeli political system, which is supposed to guide Israel to the “day after,” is broken. It is clear to everyone that the best route out of the multidimensional crisis is to topple the current government, hold elections as soon as possible and form a new government.

The tasks that will be faced by that government will require making historic decisions on the many issues that have exploded in our faces over the past year and a half. What are the chances that after the elections a coalition will be formed that can successfully address some of these issues? Unfortunately, very slim.

In a stable political system, and Britain is a good and even current example, when the ruling party fails to implement its policies, the government dissolves and elections are held in which the opposition has a good chance of and trying to lead the country on its path. In Israel, such a move is by no means straightforward given the large number of parties.

Below is a map of the parties in Israel ahead of the next elections (subject to changes):

Right-wing camps:
The failure of the Likud-led government following the defeat on October 7, 2023 has, according to the polls, led to changes in the right-wing parties. Likud has weakened compared to the strengthening of the Jewish fascist parties that have established themselves to the right of the Bibist Likud and a shift of voters to a number of more moderate right-wing parties. Islands of stability in the right-wing camp are the Mizrahi ultra-Orthodox, who have effectively become Likud II, and the Ashkenazi ultra-Orthodox who, as their payoff continues to grow, almost always join the right-wing coalition.

Center camps:
In the last two decades, Israel has witnessed a highly problematic phenomenon of “supermarket” parties led by stars who promise everything to everyone. The numerous voters of these parties have no way of knowing whether their leaders will be able to make historic decisions and lead the country out of the crisis to a better future.

Worse than that, these leaders do not present any platform or clear stance on key issues, such as a commitment to resolving the conflict with the Palestinians. The fact that the leaders of these parties are retired generals or former journalists seems to be enough for voters at this point. On the fringes of the center camp you can find the party of immigrants from Russia.

The left camp:
On the left of the political map the situation is even more dismal. Many former voters of these parties have shifted to voting for various centrist parties, leaving them on the verge of extinction.

Given the unrealized potential of the Arab electorate, the proposed solution of forming a Jewish-Arab parity party (with an equal number of Jewish and Arab representatives) is not even on the agenda. In my opinion, this is a colossal missed opportunity, especially in view of the notable restraint of Israel’s Arabs following the situation in Gaza.

The fear in Meretz was, and likely still is, that placing more than one Arab (and one Mizrahi) candidate in the list would cause it to lose a significant portion of its Jewish supporters if they go in that direction. As a bonus in the upcoming elections, it will probably share a retired general with what used to be the Labor Party. In this camp, we should also include the Arab parties – secular and religious.

The fragmentation of the Israeli political system and the phenomenon of star parties have alienated many good and capable people from various fields away from politics. In Likud, the party leader has worked over the years to remove party members who might challenge him. Against this background, the average level of the members of the current Knesset has reached an all-time low compared to members of previous Knessets. The examples are well-known.

Even worse, in the distant past, politicians who managed to make it onto the various lists regarded themselves as public servants and worked in the Knesset for the benefit of the general public. In the current and previous Knessets, many elected officials, mainly from the coalition parties, devote most of their efforts to self-promotion and sectoral interests over the public good.

The weakness of the political system is particularly worrisome given the severe crisis Israel has encountered regarding its control of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. The surprise attack by Hamas on October 7, which exacted a heavy toll on Israeli civilian and military lives, was effectively Israel’s first military defeat in the conflict with the Palestinians.

The concept adopted by Israeli governments headed by Netanyahu over the past 15 years of maintaining the status quo in the conflict with the Palestinians in Gaza in order to expand settlements in the West Bank has completely collapsed.

Decision-makers in Israel after the elections will find themselves facing a historic crossroads: whether to continue with the senseless policy of “managing” the grave conflict with the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank or strive to resolve the conflict through negotiations with American mediation and Saudi support that will lead to the establishment of a demilitarized Palestinian state in the West Bank and Strip?

This is a tough question that is directed to the future leadership of Israel, not to the current Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who is responsible for the current crisis and whose rightful place after the elections should be in the dustbin of history.

About the Author
Dr. Dan Sagir is a research fellow at the Leonard Davis Institute of International Relations at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. His book, "Weapons of Mass Deterrence: The Secret Behind Israel's Nuclear Power," was recently published (Amazon).