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Savir's Corner: A national emergency government
By URI SAVIR
13/01/2013
I do not envy Binyamin Netanyahu on the morning of January 23.
 
I do not envy Binyamin Netanyahu on the morning of January 23.

He will most probably wake up as a reelected prime minister with a hangover from a euphoric Netanyahu-style self-congratulatory victory speech. Gone is his chum and guru Arthur Finkelstein, gone are the election slogans about “a strong prime minister for a strong Israel.” It’s probably going to be a weak prime minister for a weakening Israel.

Our political “master chef” has prepared quite a meal for himself and the country – an economy in crisis with a tremendous budgetary deficit of about NIS 15 billion; one of the biggest gaps between “haves” and “have-nots” in the OECD club; a bruised society filled with mutual hostility and hatred between religious and secular, Jews and Arabs, Ashkenazim and Sephardim, new immigrants and old-timers, Right and Left. A tarnished democracy filled with racist legislation and rhetoric and a dangerous onslaught on the High Court of Justice and freedom of speech.

Netanyahu will also face a world united in opposition to his policies of settlement expansion, which have brought the peace process to a halt for the past four years; a Palestinian Authority on the verge of economic collapse due to it and us holding back its funds, with a stronger-than-ever Hamas as a result of Operation Pillar of Defense, and a weaker Fatah; an Arab world in tumult and fragmented between pragmatists and fundamentalists, only uniting in opposition to Netanyahu/Liberman policies; an Iran continuing its drive to develop nuclear weapons; a Europe that is showing a joint foreign policy front in strong opposition to, if not fury at, settlements and E1; and lastly, and possibly most importantly to Netanyahu, the new administration in Washington.

Obama II, with a new foreign and security policy team in February will be pursuing ways to create an international coalition vis-à-vis Iran and to stabilize the region in the aftermath of the Arab Spring, as well as making a serious effort to renew a viable peace process on the Palestinian track according to the Obama vision.

This will happen while there is hardly any love lost between the White House and Balfour Street in Jerusalem, after Netanyahu placed his bet on the wrong candidate in his clumsy intervention in the American elections. So, at the dawn of a new government, the re-elected prime minister faces the legacy of his first term – a socio-economic earthquake at home, a region on fire and a world in hostile opposition to his policies.

A sound, balanced and rational governmental policy could face these challenges in favor of our national interests. For that, we need sound, balanced and rational leadership.

If we were ever in need of a political leadership to break its election promises, it is on January 23 and thereafter. Likud-Yisrael Beytenu’s platform, values and policy expressions will endanger our very being as a “Jewish democracy”; will lead us into a deep economic recession – burdening mainly the middle class and the peripheries; will shake – if not destroy – our democratic foundations; and will bring us toward violent confrontations in the region and isolate us as a pariah state.

If Netanyahu has any understanding of these looming dangers, he must uncharacteristically ask for help from within the political system. It will not come from his ideological allies – Bennett, Liberman, Feiglin, etc. This is a time of national emergency and therefore he must opt for a national emergency government – for once put his inflated pride and ego aside and opt for country before party, and national interest before personal cult.

Our president, Shimon Peres, has several times throughout the election campaign expressed deep concern at the dangers facing the country. He emphasized the need to reach a two-state solution with an existing peace partner, Mahmoud Abbas, in order to preserve – actually rescue – the Jewish democratic nature of Israel.Peres, the eternal optimist, has never sounded so worried and concerned. He is the elder statesman of Israel, to whom leaders from the whole world come to seek advice. At this time of national crisis, it is time for the prime minister to listen to the advice of the one responsible grown-up and respected statesman.

IT IS also time for Netanyahu to lay aside traditional party calculations, at which he generally excels. Such considerations would lead him to create immediate alliances with his ideological bedfellows on the religious Right, attempting to square the circle between Shas and Liberman, Bennett and Likud, ultra-Orthodox and ultra-nationalists, and then, with a coalition of “Jewish Brotherhood,” to look for a fig leaf in the form of Yair Lapid. If indeed Netanyahu follows his basic instincts and the conventional road, he will lead the country to the brink of the abyss and catastrophe, if not further.

At this time of great national crisis, a responsible prime minister must opt for a national emergency government, with a national emergency policy platform. Such a platform should deal with the main challenges facing us and be composed of the most suitable people for carrying out the job.

The platform should be based on a few fundamental policy principles: A new economic deal, which includes deep budget cuts, except for education, health and social services. Necessary cuts in the defense budget. Taxation on the wealthy and on companies. A balance between the principles of a free-market economy and a welfare state, while strengthening the middle class.

The strengthening of our democratic institutions, including the total independence of the High Court of Justice.

A fair share of equal rights (also for minorities) and duties, including a gradual higher participation of haredim in the workforce, as well as in the civil and military services.

A fundamental reform in the electoral system, with a 50 percent regional representation and a 5% threshold.

An Israeli peace initiative in order to immediately renew direct negotiations with the Palestinian Authority, including a commitment to a moratorium on settlement expansion during negotiations, on the basis of the Obama vision, as expressed in his Washington speech from 2011.

Full coordination with the US administration on the prevention of the Iranian military nuclear option and a Palestinian and regional peace process, while strengthening the more moderate pragmatic forces and weakening the extremist fundamentalist ones in the region. The cooperation must include the strengthening of the Israeli security and technological edge.

Such a policy program would constitute a new socio-economic and political covenant that reflects the interests and the desires of most Israelis. The platform should be coupled with the creation of an emergency cabinet composed of the people best able to implement it, based on parity between Right and Left. The security cabinet should be composed of 11 ministers, six from the Right and five from the Left, including the prime minister. The cabinet should be composed by the best people available in our political system, such as our prime minister – the re-elected Binyamin Netanyahu. After a mediocre first term and a catastrophic second, one should hope that in the third, he will divorce hard-core ideology and partisan politics in favor of pragmatism and historical compromises.

Two deputy prime ministers, one from the Left and one from the Right – Shelly Yacimovich in charge of all social welfare issues and Yair Shamir in charge of economic growth and the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry. Shamir has experience in the technological private sector and Yacimovich in social welfare – such a balance could serve an ailing economy, alongside a good minister of finance.

Finance Minister: Stanley Fischer. Our brilliant governor of the Bank of Israel is one of the world’s most skilled economists and is highly respected by the international economic community.

Defense Minister: Dan Meridor. It’s high time for a civilian to take over the defense establishment, one who has the experience in national security considerations, rather than only day-to-day operations. A critical requirement for the new defense minister will be dialogue and full coordination with the Obama administration, especially with the new US secretary of defense, Chuck Hagel.

Foreign Affairs Minister: Tzipi Livni.

Given the urgent and pivotal need to renew a realistic peace process with the Palestinians and coordinate policies with Washington, Livni is the best-equipped person to implement what she has preached, in a field in which she, probably alone among existing candidates, is very experienced.

Justice Minister – Yair Lapid. Following in the footsteps of his father, he would do well in protecting the necessary separation of powers and independence of the High Court and in orchestrating with the prime minister a change in the electoral system.

Education Minister: Moshe Kahlon. Our educational system is in need of a fundamental reform in favor of more equal opportunity and Kahlon has proven his ability to be a reformer. He is not a moderate, but speaks with moderation, which may set a good example for our youth.

SUCH A composition of the eight most important governmental functions would, according to this scenario, represent the 55- 45% split in favor of the Right that exists in the country, as well as the pragmatic outlook of most Israelis who are not on the extreme fringes.

Will such a national compromise materialize? Most probably not, as Netanyahu possibly understands the crisis that faces us, but by nature is not inclined to take historical compromise decisions that could make him less popular with the hard-core Right.

Yet the need and possibility exists. Such a national emergency government could have the support of 80% of Israelis and more importantly save the country from the catastrophe that would be a result of a continuation of existing policies. Such an emergency government is generally established in Israel after catastrophes, and unfortunately not in order to prevent them.

The writer is president of the Peres Center for Peace and served as Israel’s chief negotiator for the Oslo Accords.
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