Yohanan Plesner
Yohanan Plesner
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This government can beat expectations and even achieve historic change

From passing a budget and ending toxic discourse to ensuring that a slim 61 majority of MKs can't trample democracy, Israelis could soon feel the change
Ministers in the newly sworn in Israeli government pose for a group photo at the president's residence in Jerusalem. June 14, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90)
Ministers in the newly sworn in Israeli government pose for a group photo at the president's residence in Jerusalem. June 14, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90)

The transition of power is a normal event on the calendar of democracies. Monday in the Knesset, however, we expected to witness something that is more than the typical passing of the baton. After two and a half years of political paralysis, the inauguration of the new government is a festive day, holding out renewed hope and a chance for stepping off the treadmill of stagnation and depression. Political insiders know all the reasons why this government has a short life expectancy: a very narrow base in the Knesset, an impossibly diverse coalition, and a parliamentary opposition led by the country’s most experienced politician do not seem to be a recipe for a long tenure.

But precisely because expectations are so low, the incoming government may turn out to be a pleasant surprise. In order to return the state to functional mode, the Government must do three things. First, it must pass a budget for 2021–2022 without delay. After a lapse of three years since the previous budget was passed in early 2018, passing a budget that puts the Israeli economy back on the path of renewed growth will transmit a message of political stability and “back to business.” One of the main tasks facing the Government is dealing with social and economic challenges; passage of the budget will demonstrate that it is able to function and find solutions to the country’s needs.

Second, it will need to make dozens of senior appointments in the public service. The public is not sufficiently aware of the depth of the crisis within the public service as a result of the standstill in running the country and the failure to fill vacant positions. If the ministers, led by the prime minister, set standards for appointing qualified professionals who meet the most stringent requirements, the public will soon experience the effects of the change in the atmosphere. The current pessimism about the future of Israeli democracy will wane and vanish when people feel that those who are worthiest are being appointed to the most important posts in public service.

Third, the new government must calm the winds of hatred and incitement and restore a sense of calm to the political discourse. In recent years, Israeli society has grown accustomed to a polarized and violent political free-for-all. But in order to survive, the parties that make up the new government will have to adopt a totally different moderate tone. Since continued escalation will threaten the very existence of the coalition, they will likely opt for a unifying dialogue aimed at finding compromises and common ground. If the new government satisfies the Israeli public’s yearning for unity and an end to the mutual attacks, it will gain legitimacy and popularity.

These three actions can lead to stability and cement the incoming Government’s legitimacy for the short to medium term. But we can hope for more than just the return of normalcy to the political arena. The Bennett-Lapid government has the potential to register historical achievements.

On the economic front, just passing the state budget isn’t enough. The global economy is experiencing vast changes, against the backdrop of the trade war between the United States and China and the new focus of most national economies on dealing with the climate crisis. While the Netanyahu governments preserved macro-economic stability, the country has been desperately crying out for major structural and micro-economic changes that would increase productivity and deal with infrastructure disparities and issues of human capital and the labor market. The new government has an excellent chance to reach a new consensus that will put the economy back on the path of growth and create economic opportunity for all Israelis, both in the center of the country as well as on the periphery.

There are also opportunities in the area of constitutional law and governance. According to the new government’s basic guidelines, committees will be established or arrangements made to examine the enactment of a Basic Law: Legislation, and to consider changes in the electoral system. The political crisis of the last two years has brought to light the fragility of the constitutional arrangements that are intended to defend and stabilize our democratic system.

The incoming justice minister can lead a historic process towards agreements that ensure that a bare majority of 61 Knesset members will no longer be able to trample on the checks and balances that preserve the democratic system. The time has come for us to stop our arm-wrestling about the rules of the constitutional game. Moreover, the recent crisis has made us painfully aware of the deficiencies and failures of our electoral system. Here too, the new government needs to spearhead the drive to reform the system and revive its ability to reach a clear-cut decision.

The incoming government has the potential to restore normalcy to our political and public conduct. If the leaders of the parties making up the Bennett-Lapid coalition understand the magnitude of the hour, the coalition will be able to address several of the fundamental problems that currently threaten the country’s future.

We wish every success to the new Government’s leaders and its members and hope they take full advantage of the opportunities for change in order to preserve and fortify our sense of optimism about the country’s future.

About the Author
Yohanan Plesner is the President of the Israel Democracy Institute. He served as a Member of Knesset for the Kadima party from 2007–2013. He lives in Hod HaSharon with his wife and four daughters.
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