When the dire predictions that the "Jewish state" bill threatened to bring down Israel's fragile coalition were actually realized, I was consoled by a lesson I learned from my late dad. When something terrible occurred he would say "Gam zu l’tovah", (literally Hebrew for "Even this is for good"). He believed that although not obvious, the occurrence was part of the almighty's plan from which good would ultimately result as taught by Rabbi Akiva and his mentor with the eponymous name, Rabbi Nahum Gamzu. This optimistic outlook resembles in some respects the English aphorism "every cloud has a silver lining". And the silver lining in this case is that early elections will provide an opportunity to change the current dysfunctional government.

Certainly, the unfortunate decision to go to early elections cannot be justified by the enforcement of strict coalition discipline in a matter like the "Jewish state" law. While party and coalition discipline is understandable in matters concerning fundamental government policy and state security, common sense dictates that it be applied with discretion. In matters which are not critical and on which there are reasoned divided opinions which cross narrow party platforms MK's and cabinet ministers should be free to vote according to their beliefs or more accurately according to what the people who voted for them think. That a free vote need not affect the stability of the government is obvious from the fact that coalition members were allowed a free vote on the bill which sought to forbid daily newspapers from being distributed for free, obviously targeting Israel Hayom, which is owned by Netanyahu’s close friend, Sheldon Adelson. While this decision was probably a tactical move aimed at sparing Netanyahu embarrassment, it confirms that there can be no RATIONAL excuse for not allowing the same freedom in the "Jewish state" bill.

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More importantly, when one considers that at the last Herzliya conference Tzipi Livni, Yair Lapid, Isaac Herzog, Naphtali Bennet and Gideon Sa’ar all agreed emphatically that the major settlement blocs must remain under Israeli sovereignty we should have been entitled to expect a stable coalition if our politicians were adult enough to resolve their differences by some reasonable give and take.

It is tragic that personal ambitions and antagonisms prevented leaders of Israel’s major political parties from putting aside their differences and building on the important points of agreement that became apparent at that debating session, so that a united front could be presented to the world on this crucial issue. Instead, these early elections will cost Israel an estimated 2 billion shekels ($500 million) taking into account the cost of a day off from work in addition to direct costs in financing the election. As the election will be held in March, judging from past experience, it is doubtful that a new government will be formed before May next year and we will just have to muddle through without a budget until the new government prepares one for submission to and approval by the Knesset, which means the 2015 budget probably won't be passed before July.

In the meantime speculation is rife about the possible make-up of the next government that will be the 34th in 67 years. The man in the street is understandably disillusioned by the performance of candidates they enthusiastically voted for in 2013 and they will be justifiably skeptical of pre-election promises by candidates who lost interest in their supporters as soon as they were elected. Because of disappointment and embarrassment at unnecessary provocative public statements by the PM and cabinet ministers, many voters are looking for a dramatic change in the image of Israel that is projected by our government due to the blatant neglect of public diplomacy and the information war.

(Photo credit: Reuters)

An interesting rising star is Moshe Kahlon who left the Likud before the elections in 2013, reportedly because of disagreements with Netanyahu. As communications minister he is credited with lowering cellphone call prices by increasing competition. His newly formed party, "Kulanu" (all of us) has already drawn former Israeli ambassador to the US Michael Oren as a prominent member and several polls indicate that the party could win 10-13 seats by attracting among others traditional Likud voters. Kahlon has been reported to say
“I come from Likud. The real Likud knows how to make peace, to give up territory, and on the other hand is conservative and responsible. My world view is that of the real Likud that truly came and safeguarded the Land of Israel. When it needed to make peace with the greatest Arab nation (Egypt) it did so, and when it needed to compromise, it compromised.”
Some view Kahlon as a man who can work with the right, the center and the left and disenchantment with the present government is so deep that some party members have said they would consider switching their votes to Kahlon from years of die-hard support of their parties.

It will be interesting to observe the part this new element will play as the feverish wheeler-dealer coalition negotiations proceed.
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