Candidly Speaking: Mulling over our new government
As anticipated, in this government, Netanyahu will be in a weaker position and far more dependent on his coalition partners than was the case in the past.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu at the weekly cabinet meeting, March 10, 2013. Photo: Pool/Maariv
Bravo! Unless there is an unanticipated lastminute reversal, after six tortuous
weeks of horse trading, spin and hypocrisy, Israel will have its 33rd
Most of us, not already having written off our politicians,
were thoroughly distressed that even during this crucial period for Israel our
elected representatives still spent so much time jockeying for personal or
The principal beneficiaries were Yesh Atid and Bayit
Yehudi who set aside their major political differences and made a pact to
negotiate jointly toward the formation of the government. They succeeded and
thus foiled Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s efforts to play them against
each other, ultimately obliging him to concede to their core demands.
principal losers were the haredi parties who, despite Netanyahu’s extraordinary
efforts to retain them, were excluded from the government. Reviled by most
Israelis as extortionists willing to sell their votes to the highest bidder and
seeking to impose the most stringent halachic interpretations on the entire
nation, their exclusion was greeted with enthusiasm.
The outcome may have
been different had they been more cooperative with respect to sharing the
burden, in particular in relation to conscription and encouraging their
youngsters to earn a livelihood, but they refused to concede an inch. Rabbi
Ovadia Yosef, Shas’s spiritual mentor, even outraged the national-religious
Bayit Yehudi leaders by calling them “goyim.” The haredi parties’ subsequent
behavior, extending to vile threats by United Torah Judaism to boycott
settlement produce – alienated whatever lingering sympathy remained.
anticipated, in this government, Netanyahu will be in a weaker position and far
more dependent on his coalition partners than was the case in the
Yet, if he plays his cards properly, this may prove to be a
blessing in disguise. It could even represent a new dawn and provide him with a
unique opportunity to stabilize Israel’s global position and implement crucial,
overdue reforms in the social and economic arena that had been repeatedly vetoed
by the ultra-Orthodox groups.
Netanyahu’s ministerial team includes some
stunning new talent, but unfortunately, in some cases, politics prevented the
best people from assuming positions optimally suited for them. Thus, Yair
Lapid’s ascension to the Treasury is a huge risk. He has no financial or
business background and it is a major gamble for a novice to take on such a
role, especially when he must grapple with a massive opening deficit which will
require resolute and unpopular cutbacks.
The choice of foreign minister,
whose primary requirement must be to effectively promote Israel’s image and
articulate the government’s policies, is also problematic, especially now as we
confront such a hostile and biased world. Avigdor Liberman is a capable and
talented politician who could take on any key ministry. But why does he insist
on retaining the one portfolio in which, rightly or wrongly, he is regarded with
hostility by most global leaders? The appointment of the respected former IDF
chief of staff Moshe Ya’alon as defense minister will strengthen morale and
signal to the Palestinians that they will pay a heavy price if they resume
missile launches or terrorist attacks.
But despite such shortcomings, the
presence of many talented young new faces augers well for the future if the
parties concentrate on working for the betterment of the nation rather than
scoring partisan political points.
Although the likelihood of being
obliged to formulate major or controversial decisions in relation to the peace
process is remote, the inclusion of Yesh Atid (and Tzipi Livni, who will now be
marginalized) may somewhat ease the international hostility against Israel by
demonstrating that the government is not an inflexible right-wing party but
represents a broad cross-section of Israelis.
Yair Lapid is a genuine
centrist committed to a twostate policy, but supports the retention of the
settlement blocs, Ariel and a united Jerusalem. This would hardly qualify him as
a left-winger and Netanyahu would find him a kindred spirit on most
Besides, the Palestinians will undoubtedly maintain their
intransigent attitude and refuse to negotiate or, if not, Palestinian Authority
President Mahmoud Abbas will remain unwilling to minimally compromise on any
The government’s most urgent domestic challenge must
be to introduce painful remedial measures to ensure that our economy does not
suffer a meltdown and follow the disastrous example of many European
It must take advantage of this historic opportunity to deal
with outstanding issues relating to religion and state, especially the
profoundly emotional issue of equalizing the burden in relation to the draft. In
the latest compromise, national service will become universal in gradual stages
over a five-year period.
Up to 2,000 yeshiva students will continue
receiving exemptions and state subsidies.
More importantly, all
subsidized education will be required to incorporate secular core studies of
math, English, civics and history, creating constructive citizens who will seek
gainful employment rather than subsisting on welfare. Although haredim should be
treated with courtesy and respect, they will no longer be a law unto themselves
and will be obliged to share the burden as well as benefits of
Today, for the first time in decades, there are more
religious Zionist than haredi MKs in the Knesset. Bayit Yehudi has the
opportunity of reversing the tide of haredi domination of religious
instrumentalities like the Chief Rabbinate and promoting Zionist rabbis to
occupy state roles, making Judaism more attractive to non-observant Israelis by
example rather than coercion.
They must ensure that conversion, marriage
and divorce, and other life cycle events are conducted with compassion by
enlightened rabbis who have the capacity to make Judaism more
This government has the obligation to amend the electoral
system and reduce the number of parties. It must also devise a new method of
selecting MKs and eradicate the current system of primaries which is being
abused and riddled with corrupt practices.
Despite the fact that Lapid
has introduced some talented new personnel into the Knesset, a system must be
devised in which Knesset candidates are not simply recruited according to the
predilections of individual party leaders. There is no perfect democratic
solution but a structure could be devised by which committees are elected which
will subsequently preselect candidates and avoid the abuse and corruption
associated with the primaries.
There should also be an arrangement
whereby at least the majority of Knesset members are directly accountable to
those who elected them rather than to party leaders.
Netanyahu must now
set aside party politics and act as a national leader, solely focused on
governing the country. He should not concern himself with the next
He has four critical years in which basic decisions affecting
the future of Israel may well be determined.
If he convinces his
coalition to set aside the past and concentrates on devising long-term
strategies, both in terms of the peace process as well as implementing the long
overdue domestic social, economic and electoral reforms, he will establish a
legacy that could enable him to be regarded as one of the greatest leaders of
the nation. But to achieve this he must resolve to set aside the sleazy
political infighting and concentrate exclusively on serving the national
interest. If he fails to do so, the new government’s lifespan will be extremely
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