Yoel Collick
Yoel Collick

What’s so terrible about a ‘change government’ that justifies fifth elections?

Israeli elections, 2015 (Photo: Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung)
Israeli elections, 2015 (Photo: Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung)

Out of unwavering loyalty to Netanyahu and a fear of abandoning a “right-wing” government, the political right are dragging us to fifth elections. Predicted to be just as inconclusive as the previous four, they will inflict further and yet more severe damage on Israel. The question to the right is simple: what would be so terrible about a “change government” that could possibly justify going to elections instead?

The most likely scenario for Israel’s immediate political future is a fifth round of national elections in two- and a-bit years.

This will be a terrible outcome, wreaking horrific damage in virtually every domain. Politically, trust in Israel’s democratic system will further weaken, and we will remain essentially government-less, without a functioning body in charge of the country’s affairs. Economically, we will continue to delay passing a much-needed budget (a delay for which Netanyahu is solely to blame) while we continue to shell out billions more shekels on costly, pointless elections, and while Israel’s most vulnerable suffer from a lack of desperately-needed state-funded assistance. Militarily, Israel is weakened and increasingly exposed to security threats, with the IDF cutting resources left, right and centre in the absence of a proper budget. Socially, the country continues to tear itself apart through divisive and inconclusive elections. And by going to the polls for the fifth time, there’s no reason to think they’ll be our last in this never-ending set, meaning that Israel’s crisis will continue.

It doesn’t need to be this way.

If Netanyahu would stand aside and let another member of the Likud take over, then the Knesset’s anti-Netanyahu majority would be broken, and a government could be formed within minutes. Alternatively, if either Likud defectors or Naftali Bennett’s Yamina were to join Yair Lapid’s so-called “change bloc”, perhaps with support in one form or another from Arab politicians, then we could have a new government. Until Netanyahu himself broke the taboo of dealing with Arab parties by courting Mansour Abbas’ Raam, this would have been impossible. Now, that’s no longer the case.

The question of Netanyahu standing aside is, unfortunately, a non-starter, as is the notion of Likud defections. The party is loyal to (and afraid of) its leader, and Netanyahu himself cares far more about himself than his country.

But Bennett joining Lapid? That should, in theory, be possible, particularly in light of the desperate need to avoid further elections and climb out of the crisis. Yet, his fellow right-wingers and political base won’t let him. The right are determined that we go to elections rather than form a broad government consisting of parties from across the spectrum.

So, the question that has to be posed to the rightists who are so afraid of the change bloc coming to power, who’ve voted for the Likud and Yamina in the past, and are expected to do so again is as follows: what would be so terrible about such a government that continuing this grave crisis is preferable?

 

This question is all the more stark considering the reality of this proposed “change government”. Virtually from day one of coalition haggling, the change bloc made it clear that, ideologically speaking, the status-quo of the past (right-wing) governments, will not be altered. Indeed, these talks have been dominated by discussions of agreed-upon mechanisms to ensure this would be the case, balancing out ministerial portfolios, establishing veto procedures and so on. A lurch to the left this government would not be.

What’s more, Israel’s left-wing parties, Meretz and Avodah, have both shown a willingness to sit in a government with those from across the political spectrum and have accepted that many of their value-based policies will have to be shelved in such a government. Not only that, they would be willing to sit in a government in which Bennett, one of Israel’s most right-wing politicians, would be prime minister. Despite the absurdity of the fact that a man leading a party of just seven seats might be prime minister, there has been no such call for reciprocity from the left, with centrist Yair Lapid ready to become prime minister in the second half of the rotation agreement.

Yet, in the eyes of those on the other side of the political aisle, such an arrangement is deplorable. The vast majority of Bennett’s base, and a number of his small pool of MKs, are deeply opposed to the idea. The Likud has mercilessly and relentlessly accused him of selling out to the left. The shameful and unnecessary asymmetry would be more understandable if it were a winning political strategy; stick to our guns until we finally heave over the electoral threshold and form a historically right-wing government which can accomplish historically right-wing things. Except, after four elections and much polling data, there’s no indication whatsoever that such a heave will come.

Consequently, keen to keep his meagre voting base happy, Bennett has floundered pathetically, flopping between Netanyahu and Lapid so often that surely no one, least of all the man himself, can possibly believe a word that leaves his mouth or spills out onto his keyboard in his long, rambling Facebook posts used to justify his latest political U-turn. So deplorable is the idea of being in government with the left and centre, even being prime minister of such a government is beyond the pale. While he may have proven himself to be a competent government minister, Bennett is a dismal politician. He is utterly paralysed, beholden by political pressure emanating from Netanyahu’s army of blind or cowered loyalists, threatening apocalypse if their Dear Leader were to be left in the political cold.

So, what explains this unwillingness to do what is necessary and form an alternative government? The scandal is that there is no answer to this question because there is no substance to the entire political debate.

The notion of “right wing” and “left wing” have become void of any real meaning. They are merely cynical and meaningless slogans manufactured by Netanyahu as part of his divide and rule electioneering strategy. Indeed, virtually anyone who has opposed Netanyahu has been dishonestly branded a “leftist”, from centrists Lapid and Benny Gantz to decidedly right-wing and populist Avigdor Liberman. Netanyahu himself has abandoned numerous right-wing causes; surrendering parts of Hebron in the Wye River Agreement, freezing settlement construction under the Obama administration, holding off from annexing the West Bank or commanding sustained military operations, and enabling suitcases of Qatari cash to fall right into the laps of Hamas (the consequences of which we’ve recently experienced). And he himself has joined forces with leftist and centrist coalition partners, from Ehud Barak and Tzipi Livni to Lapid and Benny Gantz. Just as he insists on the need for a Zionist government but makes deals with Israel’s Islamist party and prostitutes himself to the non- and anti-Zionist Haredim, the defender of the “right” has often, quite willingly in fact, gone to bed with the left. It’s one rule for Netanyahu, and another for everyone else.

The tragedy is that this divisive, yet empty, discourse is dictating our politics for the purpose of serving one person only: the incumbent prime minister. No right-wing agenda can be advanced. No government can be formed. For over seventy years, this country has seen cooperation between different political parties, including a rotation agreement between a right-wing and left-wing prime minister (Yitzchak Shamir and Shimon Peres). Our unprecedented political crisis is unwarranted. It is being propagated by one side of the political spectrum, and its root cause can be pinned on one individual.

It may well be the failure of the right that has rendered them captives of Netanyahu’s deceitful sloganeering, but it is to detriment of us all that our nation continues to fall apart as a result.

About the Author
Yoel Collick is a writer and researcher of Jewish, Israeli and Middle Eastern affairs based in Jerusalem. He has a degree in History and Political Thought from the University of Cambridge and served in the International Cooperation Division of the Israel Defense Forces.
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