Analysis: When back-scratching backfires

For Netanyahu to keep his coalition together and obtain the political stability he needs to be able to function.

By
December 1, 2016 02:12
3 minute read.
 Jerusalem

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Knesset in Jerusalem, December 3. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

What do electoral reforms aimed at increasing governmental stability, drafting yeshiva students, and holding a referendum before relinquishing land in pre-1967 Israel, eastern Jerusalem and the Golan Heights have in common? Not much, but they were each the banner policy of a party in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s governing coalition in 2013 and 2014.

None of the parties in the coalition favored all three steps, but the coalition MKs all held their noses and voted for what they opposed in order to get what they wanted.

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That is what is known as "you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” democracy, and it is the way the Knesset will continue to work unless one party wins a majority in the parliament for the first time.

That system fell apart Wednesday, when Kulanu refused to vote for legislation that would legalize homes built on Palestinian property, Bayit Yehudi responded by blocking the anti-muezzin bill backed by the Likud, and coalition discipline fell apart for a day.

It was not supposed to be that way. Like three years ago, every party was supposed to get what it wanted. Kulanu was supposed to get its tax plan for third apartments, Likud the muezzin bill, Bayit Yehudi the outpost bill, and a bill that would have guaranteed that haredim (ultra-Orthodox) would join government directorates was supposed to pass for Shas and United Torah Judaism.

Had there been a strong coalition chairman, as there was during the times of current Likud ministers Ze’ev Elkin and Yariv Levin, perhaps Wednesday’s breakdown would not have happened. But David Bitan is not the clever dealmaker that Elkin is, nor is he the people person Levin is. He also does not represent Netanyahu exclusively the way they did.

Bitan has his own agenda, namely advancing himself politically as a novice MK who only became a household name a few months ago.

Those who quote him as “a source close to Netanyahu” do so at their risk.

For Netanyahu to keep his coalition together and obtain the political stability he needs to be able to function. Bitan will have to get his back-scratching back in order. What do electoral reforms aimed at increasing governmental stability, drafting yeshiva students, and holding a referendum before relinquishing land in pre-1967 Israel, eastern Jerusalem and the Golan Heights have in common? Not much, but they were each the banner policy of a party in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s governing coalition in 2013 and 2014.

None of the parties in the coalition favored all three steps, but the coalition MKs all held their noses and voted for what they opposed in order to get what they wanted.

That is what is known as “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” democracy,” and it is the way the Knesset will continue to work unless one party wins a majority in the parliament for the first time.

That system fell apart Wednesday, when Kulanu refused to vote for legislation that would legalize homes built on Palestinian property, Bayit Yehudi responded by blocking the anti-muezzin bill backed by the Likud, and coalition discipline fell apart for a day.

It was not supposed to be that way. Like three years ago, every party was supposed to get what it wanted. Kulanu was supposed to get its tax plan for third apartments, Likud the muezzin bill, Bayit Yehudi the outpost bill, and a bill that would have guaranteed that haredim (ultra-Orthodox) would join government directorates was supposed to pass for Shas and United Torah Judaism.

Had there been a strong coalition chairman, as there was during the times of current Likud ministers Ze’ev Elkin and Yariv Levin, perhaps Wednesday’s breakdown would not have happened. But David Bitan is not the clever dealmaker that Elkin is, nor is he the people person Levin is. He also does not represent Netanyahu exclusively the way they did.

Bitan has his own agenda, namely advancing himself politically as a novice MK who only became a household name a few months ago.

Those who quote him as “a source close to Netanyahu” do so at their risk.

For Netanyahu to keep his coalition together and obtain the political stability he needs to be able to function. Bitan will have to get his back-scratching back in order.


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