(photo credit: Courtesy)
Having concocted an election no voter expected and only few welcomed, the two major parties approach the 20th Knesset limping, bruised, and disoriented.
Political eulogies of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu proved premature, but he still has to regret having called this early election, which leaves him considerably weaker.
Netanyahu failed to attract any of the votes he expected to snatch from Yesh Atid, managing instead only to pull votes from other parties within the right-wing bloc.
Moreover, Netanyahu’s original hope – to marginalize the political Center by catching it off guard – has been dashed. Not only did Lapid survive this contest as a force to reckon with, but the Center, like a hydra, has grown another head, in the form of Moshe Kahlon.
As of this writing, Netanyahu can breathe a sigh of relief, as he and his party have survived an unexpectedly dangerous and improbable gambit. However, the narrow right-wing coalition that was Netanyahu’s strategic quest now depends on Kahlon’s benevolence.
Life in such a narrow coalition will be no better from what it was like with Lapid.
On the contrary, as of today Netanyahu will suspect Kahlon’s every action as aimed at succeeding him as the Likud’s next leader.
Having said this, the election is an even bigger disappointment for the Zionist Union and its leader, Isaac Herzog. The numbers don’t add up for them. At the end of the day, the roughly 13 mandates by which this party has grown came from Hatnua, Yesh Atid, and Meretz. They therefore face only two choices: unity or opposition.
The idea of a unity government has been derided in recent days by many, most notably Netanyahu, as unworkable. That is unfounded.
Some of Israel’s greatest achievements, from the Six Day War in 1967 through the defeat of hyperinflation in 1985 to last decade’s war on terrorism were delivered by unity governments. Such governments have extraordinary clout, and when presented with a clear assignment, they stand a better chance of accomplishing it, because of the broad backing they enjoy.
Under the current circumstances, there are two such goals: political reform and a construction drive.
The need for political reform has been acknowledged by both Netanyahu and Herzog.
Both men understand that the splintering of the political system, and the political instability it causes, have become a strategic problem for the Jewish state.
A Herzog-Netanyahu government that would reform the political system – so that coalitions will be less fractious and governments more durable – would do the Jewish state a historic service on the scale of the economic stabilization plan of 1985. While at it, such a government would also be able to devise and launch an ambitious land reform and construction drive that would sharply raise the supply of new apartments and thus reduce housing prices.
Still, Netanyahu will resist efforts to establish such a government, as he is most comfortable in right-wing governments surrounded by a collection of conservative satellites.
President Reuven Rivlin’s prodding to this effect will doubtfully make Netanyahu budge. The man who can impose a unity government is Kahlon.
Like his namesake facing the Red Sea, Moshe Kahlon now faces the defining moment of a pretentious political career: He can either take a perk from Bibi and then follow his lead, as he already did in the past, or he can jump into the waters, swim ahead, and then look back and learn what it feels like to be followed by an entire nation.•