Jim Shalom
A semi-retired physician

The Israeli Political Quagmire

The Israeli government is unfortunately doing an inept job of running the country. Its policies are misguided. Furthermore, not only do departments such as finance and security have leadership comprised of ideologues who lack a pluralistic and democratic orientation, but despite their apparent self-confidence, bordering on hubris, they also demonstrate a distinct lack of professional competence. This is disheartening. Regrettably, an attempted glimpse into the future does not augur any improved solution on the horizon with or without the present political configuration.

Under the current leadership of Netanyahu and his coalition partners, it is foreseeable that the government will persist in a trajectory of undermining the judicial and accountability processes, while also disproportionately favoring the Haredim and settlers at the expense of the broader public benefit. Left unchecked, this approach will likely result in an increasing number of Haredim receiving incentives to abstain from work, being permanently exempted from military service, and having more religious regulations imposed on the general populace.

Regarding the settlers, the immediate outcome is a disproportionate redirection of funds toward their cause, without transparent public discourse or even internal governmental deliberation. If this course of action continues, it will effectively eliminate any potential for a viable future resolution involving the separation or reconciliation of the approximately two million Palestinians residing in the West Bank. Furthermore, finance Minister Smotrich has begun a campaign of discrimination of Israeli Arabs, by apparently singularly deciding to divert funds earmarked for Israeli Arab communities by the present government itself, in order to further subsidize the settlements. Not only are these policies wrong, but in the long term, are unsustainable both financially and politically and posing a threat to Israel’s security and international reputation.

Great Britain was fortunate in that, as soon as Prime Minister Liz Truss initiated an ill-advised economic program, members of her own party promptly recognized the folly of her approach and replaced her. The Israeli government, in contrast, has chosen to march itself headstrong into bedlam. Had the Israeli economy and social structure not been as robust as it was when the government came into power, we might already have witnessed the unsettling effects of upheaval and societal breakdown, extending beyond the realm of just extensive protests.

Where is the presence of the political opposition? Regrettably, the opposition parties have handled the situation with a lack of prowess. In stark contrast to Netanyahu, who in the early stages, secured an accord with his eventual coalition partners to prevent internal competition during the election, each opposition party pursued their individual electoral campaigns, competing amongst themselves. This independent approach persisted even after the election, resulting in a disjointed post-election period rendering each opposition party ineffective in their endeavors. Moreover, it is not the opposition political parties that are spearheading the protests. Instead, it is the protesters, largely a reflection of the public’s disillusionment with the government’s conduct and apprehension about the future, who have taken the lead. The lack of synchronization in actions among the opposition parties persists, despite their previous harmonious collaboration during the Lapid-Bennett administration.

The only exception to this disarray has been their unanimous refusal to vote on the “Agreeable act,” showcasing the potential impact of a united opposition. This collective decision resulted in a resounding 64-0 vote, effectively isolating the coalition government. This act demonstrated that while the coalition may hold a parliamentary majority, their support remains confined exclusively to within the coalition parties. While the political opposition is at an automatic disadvantage because of the government majority, their effectiveness could be significantly enhanced through coordinated efforts, much like the approach adopted by the opposing side.

If the Arab parties that support the democratic process had been part of the former Lapid-Bennett government, it’s conceivable that the government could have maintained its stability even as Bennett’s other allies abandoned him, potentially averting its downfall. However, these Arab parties, even those that acknowledge Israel’s sovereignty, were not extended invitations to join the government. Although Mansour Abbas, from the Israeli Arab list, provided external support, it proved insufficient. The reality of Israeli politics is more complicated in that it is likely that even had they been invited to be a part of the Lapid-Bennet government, they may well have declined, since their long-standing policy has been to sit in the Knesset but not participate positively in the political process. Either way, the absence of backing from at least a portion of the Arab parties’ representing10 seats out of the 120 in the government casts further doubt on the potential of an opposition alternative.

What if all the center-right parties were to unite? With Likud at 32 seats, Yesh Atid at 24, National Unity at 12, Yisrael Beiteinu at 6, the cumulative total would be 74 seats. On paper, this would definitely appear to be clearly the best path to go. Such a government would have a chance to return the Israeli government to a saner course based more on consensus. Since they would no longer be the determining factor in maintaining a government majority, it would also neutralize the Haredim’s excessive clout. Additionally, a government which also includes Labor and offers the Arab parties a chance to join, could play a crucial role in rectifying the damage inflicted by the current radical administration. It would offer the opportunity to establish a more inclusive and balanced governance that considers the diverse perspectives within Israeli society.

Despite its obvious appeal and potential, as long as Netanyahu remains in power, this option is unfortunately a nonstarter. None of the opposition parties are willing to work under Netanyahu. Each of their leaders has previously worked under him, so their views are not primarily political but rather based on personal disappointing firsthand experience. Each has staked their political reputation on that resolute stance. From his vantage point, Netanyahu himself adamantly refuses to resign, apparently, undeterred no matter what. The coalition partners, even those who might prefer his resignation, refrain from explicitly demanding it, in part, because they are fearful that no other leader will be able to effectively unite them as he has, potentially resulting in the dissolution of the current government. Regrettably, they seem to prioritize retaining their grasp on power, even within a government that exhibits significant dysfunction, of which they are integral parts and therefore liable for its conduct. These dynamics highlight the disconcerting nature of politics, where maintaining power can take precedence over other considerations including the wellbeing of the country.

Alternate scenarios or different leadership within the Israeli Arab political sphere might hypothesize a more proactive role for the Arab parties. Israeli Arabs evidently now recognize the advantages of integration into Israeli society, leading to an anticipation of more dynamic political involvement from their representatives, rather than mere sideline presence. In recent years, both Israeli Arabs and their politicians have shifted their focus from the volatile and controversial Palestinian-Israeli conflict to prioritizing the welfare of Israeli Arabs which is not controversial for most of the Israeli public. An illustrative instance involves addressing internal violence within Israeli Arab communities. Although this issue has been neglected by Security Minister Ben Gvir, it still aligns with the broader Israeli-Jewish consensus.

Presently, as center-right Israelis directly experience the risks and harm posed by Israel’s far-right parties, and while there is a natural tendency to be more indulgent to people shortcomings when they belong to “your own side”, some center right view holders may become more receptive and consider it less risky, to instead support a government which includes democratically committed Arab ministers, if that is what it takes to sustain a viable alternative.

Were Netanyahu replaced by someone else, the challenges in establishing a majority government involving both opposition parties and Likud would persist. The opposition parties staunchly oppose the proposed judicial reforms, whereas Likud has supported them. Second, although some center-right politicians identify with the settlers and their goals, at least some would oppose the unchecked policies endorsed by Likud that could potentially harm the nation. This raises questions about the feasibility of bridging the existing gap between the divergent positions of the Likud and the opposition parties.

Hence, unless there’s a shift in party loyalties and voting trends, the potential collapse of the current government could lead to a situation where no leader can successfully form a majority government.

The Bible recounts that upon the Israelites’ liberation from Egyptian slavery, their path was far from idyllic. Enduring a span of 40 years, they navigated a challenging desert sojourn, and even upon reaching the promised land, they encountered the arduous task of waging warfare to secure their foothold. This narrative could serve as a metaphor for the current circumstances: Although the present state of affairs is undoubtedly troublesome, if the present government falls, matters may well deteriorate further before any potential improvement takes shape.

It is easier for political analysts to explain what happened than predict what will happen.  While no one can know for certain how events will unfold, one can look at the situation, glean the relevant facts, do one’s best to interpret them and then posit what may develop. The present government led by Netanyahu is driving the country towards a state of decline and may eventually reach a breaking point. No viable replacement for Netanyahu is currently evident.  Even in the event of a leadership change, the willingness of Likud and other centrist parties to cooperate remains uncertain. Without a political party reshuffling, the prospect of assembling a majority becomes dubious, potentially reinstating the nation into a political deadlock.

There is evidence that our adversaries are finding cause for celebration and gloating as we are doing to ourselves what they have been unable to do to us for 75 years. Moreover, Israelis have traditionally prided Israeli society as a liberal, pluralistic, tolerant, democratic alternative to all of our Arab neighbors near and far. The trajectory toward a more authoritarian governing model, rendering it less accountable to both the judiciary and the public, coupled with an upsurge in religious fundamentalism, evokes parallels rather than contrasts with our neighbors such as Iran.

Amidst this somber prospect, a glimmer of hope resides in the realm of unpredictability—a yet-to-emerge factor that could metamorphose the status quo, ushering in a more favorable solution despite the prevailing gloom.

About the Author
Jim Shalom is a specialist in family medicine, with interests in end-of-life care and the Israeli political scene. He resides in Galilee. He has spent most of his adult life living and working in Israel.
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