National unity

“We have only one option,” said Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman. “A liberal, national, broad unity government comprising Yisrael Beytenu, Likud, and Blue and White."

September 18, 2019 21:45
3 minute read.
National unity

Heads of the Blue and White party, Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid. Avigdor Liberman, Head of rightist Yisrael Beiteinu party. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the weekly cabinet meeting, December 2, 2018. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

After Tuesday’s election, which resulted in neither the center-left nor the religious-right blocs gaining the necessary 61 mandates, rational voices called for national unity.

“We have only one option,” said Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman. “A liberal, national, broad unity government comprising Yisrael Beytenu, Likud, and Blue and White. I say to all citizens: our security and economy are in an emergency situation. Therefore, the state must have a broad national, liberal government and not one which fights for survival from one week to the next and from one no-confidence vote to the next.”

Ironically, it was Liberman who triggered the second round of voting after the April 9 election, when he refused to join a government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu because his demands on ultra-Orthodox draft legislation and other issues relating to religion and state were not met.

He reiterated these demands when speaking to reporters outside his home in Nokdim on Wednesday morning, saying they included the operating of public transportation and mini-markets on Shabbat, as well as the legalization of civil marriage.

Netanyahu has not forgiven Liberman for “joining the Left” and not giving him the necessary majority to form a coalition following the last election. But Liberman has again positioned himself after the do-over vote as “the kingmaker” who could determine the makeup of Israel’s 35th government.

The problem with Liberman’s proposal is that both Netanyahu and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz are refusing to sit together, even in a rotation government in which they would take turns as premier, just as Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Shamir did after the 1984 election. And Liberman himself refuses to sit with just Shas, United Torah Judaism and Yamina.

Gantz’s position has been that he is prepared to form a unity government with another Likud leader – anyone but Netanyahu – but like Liberman, he opposes a coalition with the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) parties.

“I wish a good unity government for the people of Israel, that the political system will calm down a bit and we can start moving forward,” Gantz said. “I call on all my political rivals to put their disagreements aside and work together to create a fair and equal society for all of Israel’s citizens.”

Netanyahu’s goal remains building a coalition with Shas, United Torah Judaism and Yamina but without Blue and White, even if it means bringing in the left-wing Labor-Gesher alliance.

“We need a strong government, a stable government, a Zionist government – a government that is committed to Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people,” Netanyahu said. “There will not be and there cannot be a government that leans on Arab, anti-Zionist parties.”

It is a sad indictment of the current political situation that Netanyahu rejects Arab parties with impunity in the same way that Liberman and Gantz reject haredi ones. This is untenable prejudice on both sides, particularly in a Jewish state that prides itself on its democratic values.

Much could depend on President Reuven Rivlin, who has promised the public that he will do all he can to prevent calling a third election in 2019. Can Rivlin convince Netanyahu and Gantz to lock heads and hammer out a national unity deal? And if they both refuse or fail to garner a majority, will he choose an alternative leader?

In the interests of Israel and all its citizens, we urge the president to promote the establishment of a national unity government. There is too much at stake for the country facing security threats from Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas, the diplomatic challenge of the Trump administration’s “Deal of the Century” soon to be unveiled, as well as pressing socioeconomic challenges that need to be addressed.

Despite the predictions of voter apathy, Tuesday’s turnout rose from 68.5% in the April election to 69.4%. That’s a good sign. Now is the time to put aside personal, political and partisan interests and internal bickering in favor of the country as a whole and our collective future, as well as its relations with the Jewish Diaspora, our Middle East allies and the world. Instead of seeing the results of Tuesday’s election – which was costly and exhausting – in a bleak light, let’s pray that they augur a new era of unity, hope and peace, both at home and with our neighbors.

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