Netanyahu at cabinet meeting 370.
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
In recent months, there has been mounting indiscriminate criticism of Prime
Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s policies by government officials.
such behavior has been a feature of Israeli politics since the onset of the
post-Begin era when cabinet responsibility began to erode, the incessant
infighting is currently preventing us from acting coherently on the world
political stage and is contributing to the perception that Israel is a banana
It also enables the Palestinians to divert attention from their
intransigency and to cast themselves as victims occupying the moral high ground.
The internal strife may also bring about the collapse of the
This situation must be rectified now, before upcoming
diplomatic talks get underway. The government must totally set aside domestic
political considerations, formulate a strategy based exclusively on Israel’s
best interests, and speak with one voice. If not, our lack of cohesion will
damage our relationship with the US and intensify the international community’s
efforts to impose solutions upon us.
By any objective assessment of the
current situation, nothing can be achieved with the Palestinians at this point
given the absence of a genuine partner, even if we reach the negotiating table.
Palestinian leaders are unwilling and unable to make concessions. Their ongoing
incitement to hatred and repeated proclamations of their intent to merge with
the genocidal Hamas leave no room for illusions.
Ironically, there is
currently a broader consensus about the peace process among Israelis than at any
time since the massive rift following the adoption of the Oslo Accords. Most
Israelis agree that, under the present circumstances, the status quo is
preferable to unilateral withdrawals. We have absorbed lessons from the Gaza
disengagement and are conscious of the mortal threats that would confront us if
terrorists in close proximity were to target Israel’s heartland, including its
Despite shrill calls from the far Right to annex the West
Bank, the vast majority of Israelis remain opposed to such a move. Already
facing major challenges integrating increasingly radicalized Arab Israeli
citizens, we are unwilling to absorb large numbers of additional Arabs.
Recognizing that to remain a democratic state, Arabs living under Israeli
jurisdiction must be granted the right to vote and, even if Jews remain the
majority population, a major increase in the number of Arab citizens would
transform the country into a binational state. Most of us dismiss implausible
notions of Arab autonomy or dual nationality at the same time that we find a
population transfer inconceivable.
Yet within the government, calls for
annexation are growing stronger with prominent ministers publicly repudiating
government policies that reflect public consensus. Deputy Foreign Minister Ze’ev
Elkin is a vocal proponent of annexation of the disputed territories. If Avigdor
Liberman overcomes his legal problems and resumes his position as foreign
minister, he will undoubtedly return to outbursts contradicting the prime
minister’s policies. Economy and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett and Deputy
Defense Minister Danny Danon, repeatedly dismiss or mock the government-approved
Much of this stems from genuine ultra-nationalistic
motivations, but some is simple pandering to domestic constituencies without
consideration of the political consequences.
The situation is further
exacerbated by the shenanigans of the Likud central committee, a highly
organized minority within the 3,600-strong Likud membership that publicly
humiliates the prime minister. Danon, the newly-elected Central Committee
chairman, has proclaimed that all future diplomatic initiatives will require
central committee approval prior to implementation. Yet most Israelis, including
a majority of Likud supporters, would strenuously oppose giving faceless
minority groups the ostensible right to veto government actions.
recent years, the swiftly changing political climate has created a situation in
which the government seemingly endorses the right of ministers to openly
criticize its policies. In order to cobble together a coalition, Prime Minister
Netanyahu was obliged to appoint ministers with opposing views. He may even
deliberately have done so to prevent US and other foreign governments from
succeeding in pressuring us to make excessive unilateral concessions, reminding
them that if his government collapsed, a far more hawkish administration would
Deputy Foreign Minister Elkin has even said publicly that
internal strife is positive, because it demonstrates the variety of views within
the party that the prime minister must take into account if he is to retain
Some right-wing elements applaud “tough” dissent within the
But in doing so, they unwittingly provide grist for emotions
that have had costly political consequences in the past. The radical Right
brought about the collapse of previous national camp governments, which paved
the way for left-wing takeovers. Their current behavior is reminiscent of their
counterparts prior to the formation of Kadima and the disastrous Gaza
The “tough” Right today also continues to delude itself.
While it attempts to appear otherwise, it represents a narrow fringe of the
electorate. The vast majority of Israelis support the implementation of a
two-state solution – if Palestinian leaders emerge who are genuine peace
partners willing to ensure Israel’s security. And while the far Right would have
us believe that Prime Minister Netanyahu is incapable of leading the way, he
remains head and shoulders above any other potential Likud leader, despite his
Setting aside the pros and cons of the issues involved,
the fact remains that no responsible democratic government can grant license to
ministers to publicly criticize its policies. (Such latitude is inconceivable in
Europe or the US).
Unfettered criticism from high-ranking officials
within the government – regardless of whether it emanates from the Left or the
Right – reflects a hyperdemocracy that borders on anarchy. It emphasizes
disunity if not disfunctionality, can result in massive blunders by impulsive
individuals and chaos that can lead to a breakdown in accountability to the
electorate. Unless stemmed, it will inevitably have severe repercussions both
within Israel and without, including damaging our credibility with Israel’s
friends in Congress and the American public.
The impending peace
negotiations and the current regional chaos require the government to close
ranks and demand that ministers behave like responsible members of a single
political administration rather than heads of independent fiefdoms. If ministers
feel sufficiently concerned about issues to break ranks and publicly criticize
the government, they should resign and join the opposition. That is how real
democracies function and what the majority of Israelis expect from their elected
If the government fails to rein in its officials and
speak with one voice, it will continue to undermine Israel’s credibility, create
doubt about our genuine commitment to a peaceful settlement and provide yet
another propaganda victory for the Palestinians.
The writer’s website can
be viewed at www.wordfromjerusalem.com.
He may be contacted at