Borderline Views: The coalition minefield
For those of us who remain disappointed by the election result, it is about time we got our act together and formed a real opposition.
Peres meets ministers, for January 2013 coalition Photo: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post
As readers of this column will be aware, I did not vote for Binyamin Netanyahu,
or for any right-wing party. But I don’t envy Netanyahu’s task of negotiating
through a political minefield in an attempt to create a broad coalition
Four diverse issues are on the table, and each of the
potential coalition partners have stated their unwillingness to back down.
Either they will stand true to their pre-election commitments to their
supporters or, as has happened so often in the past, they will accept
watered-down versions of their policies, with implementation put off to an
undetermined future date.
Netanyahu will argue that they are behaving
irresponsibly in preventing the establishment of a new government, that they are
not behaving in the best interests of the state, and eventually especially
newcomers such as Lapid and Yesh Atid will buckle to the more experienced
coalition negotiators of the Likud, and perhaps even the ultra- Orthodox
Of the four major issues on the table, the security/peace issue
will, surprisingly, be easiest to reach an agreement on. Of the major potential
coalition partners, the majority – Likud, Bayit Yehudi and the ultra-Orthodox
parties (Shas and United Torah Judaism) are not in favor of undertaking any
major new peace initiative, while Yesh Atid’s position is unclear; its MKs hold
diverse views on the issue. Tzipi Livni may hold out, but she will be
irrelevant, as will Kadima, if and when the other parties are in
The spectre of a nuclear Iran will continue to be thrown up by
Netanyahu as the major security issue on the table. This will forestall any
serious debate on the Israel- Palestine issue, to which lip service – but
nothing more – will be paid during the coalition negotiations.
and economic issues, Yesh Atid will insist on taking the lead. The party’s rise
to power on the wave of the social protest is also mirrored in the Labor Party
list (who look as though they will be the largest party left in opposition) as
well as among many of the MKs of the Bayit Yehudi party, and there is strong
cross-party support for significant changes in economic policy and
Shas will throw up the situation of the poorer sectors of the
population, but this election was not about them – it was about the middle
class, those who contribute to the state through their professionalism and high
taxes and without whom there would not be any public resources available for the
poorer sectors of society.
THE THIRD issue, perhaps the most contentious
this time round, is that of military conscription for the entire population. For
Yesh Atid, this has become a major principle, and it is also supported by Bayit
But it will be strongly rejected by UTJ and Shas, although the
latter, the majority of whose voters serve in the army, have made some early
conciliatory statements about their willingness to consider changes.
there is one party which, more than any other, will not allow itself to be
squeezed out of the coalition, it is Shas, and it is aware is will have to
distance itself from UTJ’s uncompromising stance on this issue.
compromise stance on the conscription issue will entail it being implemented
over a long – perhaps five years – period, and it will include all forms of
national service, not just military service. There is every reason why haredi
and Arab citizens should contribute to a variety of social and welfare programs
– in hospitals, schools and other welfare and educational projects – if they are
unable, or unwilling, to serve in the army.
Add to that the fact that the
army is not interested in suddenly recruiting tens of thousands ultra-Orthodox
Jews or Arab citizens, and the fact that thousands will simply refuse to be
conscripted in what could become a mass civil insurrection, and it is obvious
that a compromise will have to be reached, one which will satisfy Yesh Atid in
terms of the burden falling equally on everyone, but one with which the haredi
and Arab parties can live. It is about time that this highly sensitive issue was
dealt with properly.
THE FINAL issue, which will probably get brushed
aside in the heat of negotiations on the other topics, concerns electoral and
constitutional reform. This is again promoted by Yesh Atid and, to a lesser
extent, by Bayit Yehudi.
Unlike the 1990s, when this was a major topic on
the national agenda, it has largely been put aside during the past decade. The
failed attempt to implement direct elections and the return to the old electoral
system, but with a few small but significant changes, has resulted in greater
government stability than in the past.
The solutions for real electoral
reform – a mixed electoral system, the introduction of multi-member
constituencies, the raising of the electoral threshold – have been discussed and
analyzed ad nauseam. It is not a lack of solutions but rather opposition among
the MKs themselves which has prevented it from happening. It is just possible
that given the fact that almost half of the Knesset is new and that, at least at
this early stage in the game, they do not have the same built-in interests,
there would be greater support for real electoral and constitutional reform –
but if I was a betting man, I wouldn’t put too much money on it becoming part of
the new coalition manifesto.
Lapid has also stated that the new
government should not have more than 18 ministers and that none of them should
hold the dubious, and wasteful, position of “minister without portfolio” just to
satisfy the large number of coalition demands for seats around the cabinet
table. There is absolutely no reason why one in every three to four members of
Knesset should assume the right to be a minister, and the number of ministers
should not be dependent on the number of coalition partners. Parties should get
used to the idea that no more than a few of their senior members will occupy
Not only will this save millions for investment in
other, much more important projects, such as welfare and education, it will also
mean that MKs will have to get back to doing what they are meant to be doing:
participating in Knesset debates and committee sessions. Is it going to happen?
Again, I wouldn’t put my money on it.
AT THE end of the day, there will
be one definite winner – Netanyahu. One way or another, he will get his
coalition together, as befits the leader of the largest party. I too would have
preferred an alternative prime minister and a left-of-center coalition rather
than the continued right-of-center government we will have. But the 66 percent
of the Israeli public who took the trouble to go to the polls (and the rest
don’t have the right to moan and groan during the coming four years), have had
their say and we now have to get back to the tasks ahead of us – and as quickly
For those of us who remain disappointed by the election
result, it is about time we got our act together and formed a real opposition,
one which will challenge the government during the entire four years of its
administration and not just in the few weeks before an election. One which will
know to come together for the common good, rather than continually divide and
separate over the minor differences. Ironically, it is the right wing who do
this much better, and they will therefore have the privilege of continuing to
govern Israel for the next four years.
The writer is the dean of the
faculty of humanities and social sciences at Ben-Gurion University, the views
expressed are his alone.