It is still difficult to assess how Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will
govern in his next government. The public has little interest in begging the
Palestinians to return to negotiations.
But then the Israeli public has
rarely had much interest in pursuing fruitless deals with unreformed Palestinian
terrorists. The only reason we continue to chase deals with them is because the
US is obsessed with supporting Palestinian anti-Israel demands in the name of
To a significant, if not necessarily determinative degree, whether
the Palestinians continue to be a salient issue in the coming years will be a
function of events in the wider Arab world. The collapse of the Egyptian state,
Syria’s civil war, and the potential collapse of the Hashemite monarchy in
Jordan will all limit President Barack Obama’s ability to press Israel to give
away land to the Palestinians.
At the same time, Netanyahu’s assault on
his own political camp, starting with Likud and moving to Naftali Bennett and
Bayit Yehudi indicates that at a minimum, Netanyahu will do nothing to advance
Israel’s position vis-à-vis the Palestinians. He is unlikely to permit
significant new construction in Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria or
significant Jewish building in Jerusalem. He is unlikely to undertake any
democratic reforms in the Justice Ministry or the court system. He is unlikely
to take any steps to boost Israel’s rights in Judea and Samaria or to undermine
the terrorist-led Palestinian Authority.
Where the next government is
likely to move ahead are in two other significant, if under-discussed areas:
economic reform and religious reform.
ISRAEL RECENTLY conducted its first
successful test pumping of natural gas from the offshore Leviathan natural gas
field. In the next four years, Israel will become a major natural gas exporter
and will make great strides in developing its recently discovered shale oil
deposits. Israel’s emergence as an energy exporter will have a transformational
impact on Israel’s economic independence and long-term
Moreover, as the surrounding Arab world becomes more unstable,
violent and fanatical, Israel’s economic independence and vitality will emerge
as our most important diplomatic asset and a hugely important domestic trump
Under the economic leadership of Netanyahu, Lapid and Bennett, as
Israel stands at the cusp of this economic breakthrough, it will be led by its
most powerful, and – at least in the cases of Netanyahu and Bennett –
ideologically committed champions of free market economics.
emergence as the leader of the second largest party will lead to one of two
possibilities – Shas, the Sephardic ultra-Orthodox party, will join the
coalition and have no power, or it will be kept outside the coalition and have
no power. Either way, both in terms of Israel’s ability to capitalize on its
economic opportunities, and in terms of its ability to transform the country’s
religious institutions, Shas’s demotion from political kingmaker to political
deadweight is a major and possibly transformative development.
As far as
religious reform is concerned, one of the sources of social friction that has
weakened Israeli society over the past few decades is perception shared by most
Israelis that the ultra-Orthodox community is comprised of
The fact that most ultra-Orthodox men do not serve in the
IDF, while receiving government handouts to study in state-funded yeshivot is
one source of social friction.
Another source of friction is that while
its members do not participate in either the common burden of national defense
or in the economic life of the country, due to Israel’s proportional electoral
system, the ultra-Orthodox minority has managed to maintain control over the
state religious institutions and so dictate the (sour) relationship between
religion and society in Israel.
Both Bennett and Lapid ran on platforms
of universal male conscription or national service and ending the ultra-Orthodox
community’s monopoly on control over the state rabbinate. A Netanyahu-Lapid-
Bennett government could enact major reforms in the religious establishment that
would lead to a national-religious takeover of the rabbinic courts and the chief
rabbinate of the country. Such a government could also require the
ultra-Orthodox to serve in the IDF, and enable the community’s members to
integrate into the economic life of the country.
ALL OF these steps would
have a salutary, indeed, revolutionary impact on the religious life of the
country. National religious rabbis would do what the ultra-Orthodox rabbis have
failed to do, or stubbornly refused to do. They would make Judaism part of the
lifeblood of the country in a way that is relevant to the lives of the vast
majority of Israelis and pave the way for Israel’s further emergence as the
spiritual center of world Jewry. The ripple effects of such a reform would
extend to nearly every corner of Israel, and indeed, to nearly every corner of
the Jewish world.
We will learn a great deal about Netanyahu’s plans to
contend with Iran’s nuclear project, the hostile Obama administration, the
rapidly expanding and metastasizing campaign to delegitimize the Jewish state in
the West, and the rise of genocidal anti-Semitic regimes in neighboring
countries through his choice of defense minister.
After the prime
minister, the defense minister will be the most important member of the
government, on nearly every level and every sphere of national
He has two outstanding candidates for the position inside Likud
– Moshe Ya’alon and Yuval Steinitz. If he chooses either of these men, then we
can be relatively confident that Israel will rise to the challenges we face. If
he chooses anyone else, then the country’s capacity to contend successfully with
these threats will be more dubious.
But here too, external events may be
more important than the identity of Israel’s national leaders. The gravitational
impact of the Islamic wave engulfing the Arab world and Israel’s emergence as an
independent economic force will limit the ability of any one person to determine
the course of events based on his own political preferences.
We are still
at the earliest stages of the formation of the next governing coalition. The
reports just this week about Israel Air Force strikes on convoys of
anti-aircraft missiles being transferred from Syria to Hezbollah and fears that
Syria’s chemical weapons will imminently be controlled by al-Qaida or Hezbollah;
the still unconfirmed reports about an attack on Iran’s uranium enrichment
facility at Fordo; and the mass riots in Egypt, particularly in the
strategically vital cities of Port Said and Suez, all make clear that regardless
of the plans of the next government, and the intentions of the Obama
administration, many of the new government’s actions will be dictated by forces
beyond the control of the Israeli electorate and the preferences of our leaders.