Yedidia Stern

We need a broad national emergency government now

To shake off the current paralysis, all Zionist parties must agree to join hands under Netanyahu for 12 months followed by elections
The Knesset building in Jerusalem, February 25, 2012 (iStock)
The Knesset building in Jerusalem, February 25, 2012 (iStock)

Over the last year and a half, Israel has experienced a massive deterioration of its self-worth, from a judicial revolution that brought us to the brink of civil war to a security failure that resulted in enormous suffering – for bereaved families, the hostages, the injured and those displaced from their homes – and national humiliation. We have been prosecuting a war without strategic policy objectives, which looks like a journey to nowhere. Deterrence against Iran, which dared to launch a massive missile attack from its own soil, has eroded. International support for Israel has collapsed, and fissures have opened up between us and the United States. Legal warfare in international forums seeks to brand us as war criminals. A tsunami of antisemitism, even in the West’s “bastions of knowledge,” is clamoring for the end of the Jewish state.

All of these require a reorganization of Israel’s political system. The State of Israel cannot continue dealing with these multiple fronts with the same dysfunctional framework that led us into this morass. The public understands this – only one-third places its trust in the government and its leader. What’s more, only around a third believes that victory will be achieved in the current war (compared to an overwhelming majority who believed this at its onset). Change is needed, and fast.

The question of responsibility for this imbroglio must be investigated seriously and rigorously. But any action taken today should not be conditioned on fully resolving the question of responsibility. Reality is banging with terrifying force on our national doors and calling us to come to our senses immediately and fight back fiercely on all fronts.

The heart of the matter is that Israel is paralyzed and unable to make decisions that are vital to its future. Contrary to his declarations, the prime minister is not acting decisively to realize the goals of the war: for about half the time that has passed since Simchat Torah, Israel has been passive, reacting but not taking the initiative, and losing vital assets. 

This paralysis is a consequence of political pressures and interests, here and in the United States. We have little power to influence the decisions made by President Biden, given the situation he faces in the contentious American political arena. However, we must not allow political interests here in Israel to dictate our national paralysis. At the moment, the prime minister is indecisive regarding the military dilemmas (the hostages, Rafah, war in the north) and policy matters (the day after in the Gaza Strip) because of his fear that any decision will shatter the coalition. 

Israel is not being led. The prime minister is too busy trying to maneuver through the parallel forces and pressures exerted on him by the extreme right, his partners in the center, the Americans, and Sinwar.

There is no greater state of emergency than the present one, and therefore the call for “elections now” must be heeded so the public can choose a leadership (the current one or a replacement) worthy of its trust. Clearly, this is the preferred alternative. But to the extent the majority in the Knesset opposes this, it would be appropriate to adopt an interim plan and form a broad consensus around it. A new framework (drawn up with the Israel Center for Promotion of Fairness) proposes that all the Zionist parties join a national emergency government, led by the current prime minister, for 12 months. As a condition for their joining and the commitment that they will not topple the government for a year, a law will be enacted with the agreement of 80 Knesset members setting a date for general elections at the end of the 12-month period. The law will stipulate that it cannot be changed except with the consent of 80 MKs, a two-thirds supermajority.

This move is far from trivial: the prime minister is being asked to forego a significant portion of his term, contrary to his plans. He will also lose support from the far right. On the other hand, his opponents will also pay a heavy price: even though their goal is the immediate removal of the prime minister (their slogan is “You are the leader, you are to blame”), they will join him for a year and thus seemingly “endorse” him, for the immediate term. They are liable to lose support from some of their obstinate constituents. However, under the current conditions, stabilizing a broad coalition and leaving the extremists where they belong – on the sidelines – is the necessary patriotic and rational step.

A broad national emergency government would operate under better conditions on all fronts:

In the Israeli arena, it would lower the flames of disagreement between us and have a healing and unifying effect. It would be able to act to realize the goals of the war (and resolve the tension between them) from a centrist point of view, without flinching from the forces of the extremes. 

In the regional arena, it would demonstrate the commitment of the vast majority of Israelis to act as one, united by a covenant of fate, and thus strengthen deterrence against our enemy. It would show Sinwar the limits the Israeli majority sets on his ability to blackmail us and would frustrate his efforts to capitalize on internal Israeli disagreement over the hostages. 

In the international arena, it would make it clear to the Biden administration that the government’s decisions do not serve a narrow political agenda, but rather reflect the broad public interest, as most Israeli citizens understand it. The administration would consider its confrontational decisions more carefully when the Israelis stand together. 

And finally, a war with Hezbollah could prove more difficult than what we have known so far. Only the backing of an overwhelming majority of the people, through a national emergency government, would be able to issue the necessary ultimatum to Hezbollah: withdraw or be defeated.

This is a historic moment in our history. We must join hands, for a year, to break free of these straits.

About the Author
Yedidia Stern is the president of the Jewish People Policy Institute (JPPI) and a professor of law (emeritus) at Bar-Ilan University.
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