Israeli elections

"If democracy is to be served, Netanyahu should not now run off and think he has won a great victory."

March 18, 2015 21:08
Tel Aviv

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Isaac Herzog, Co-leader of the centre-left Zionist Union, are pictured together as campaign billboards rotate in Tel Aviv. (photo credit: REUTERS)

In my opinion, the Israeli elections could not have turned out better.

The electorate was faced with a very difficult choice in this election – the calling of which, I might add, was a huge tactical error on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s part. As voters we had to choose which was more important, voting for hard-liners who would stand up to international pressure and be tough on the issue of Israel’s security, or for those who understood that while this was an important issue, the socio-economic issues that beset us (i.e. the high cost of living, skyrocketing home prices and a growing gap between the haves and the have-nots) needs serious attention as well.

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Clearly the Likud headed by Netanyahu pushed only the security issue, which culminated in his earlier address to the US Congress, while never bothering to even draft a party platform for this election referring to any other issue. On the other hand, the Zionist Union headed by Isaac Herzog, while acknowledging the importance of security, took pains to create a party platform and speak often about the social and economic issues that affect our daily lives as citizens here.

What the electorate said yesterday, in giving 29-30 seats to Likud and 23-24 seats to the Zionist Union (final results are still being tallied, ergo the range indicated) is that we want both pieces of the pie. Yes, we do want a strong leader in the area of security but we also want a government that will seriously address those issues that not only impact our daily lives but also speak to the issue of whether our children and grandchildren will choose to remain here and raise their offspring here as well.

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The vote, therefore, provides an opportunity that we have not seen for many years. That is the possibility of creating a national unity government without the participation of the myriad of small parties who, because of our tradition of coalition governments, generally wield much more power than that given to them by the electorate at large.

It now falls to the president of Israel, Reuven Rivlin, to decide whom he will ask to form the next government. In the spirit of bipartisanship and for the good and welfare of the country and the people of Israel, he must use all the power of his office to convince the Likud and Zionist Union leadership to form a national unity government. Between them they will not have enough seats to do so (they have roughly 53 and need at least 61) but they could easily add a third party, either Koolanu with its 10 seats or Yesh Atid with its 11 seats. With either one of those they have the majority needed and with both, they would have a strong governing majority of 77-78 seats in the 120-seat Knesset.

There are those who will read this and say simply: impossible! Yes, of course, there has been a lot of hateful and derogatory rhetoric between the candidates in the run-up to the election. And yes, in many ways the approaches to peace, to the international community and to the Palestinians differ widely between the two major parties. But so what? We are living in a region of incredible tumult and upheaval where what we took for granted for the past 40 years is no longer to be taken for granted. No one knows where the chaos in Syria will end, how many more satellites of Iran will be established in the region, whether Islamic State can be contained or even if we could sustain an onslaught from multiple directions in 2015 as we did in the past. Under these circumstances responsible leadership is obligated to listen to the populace which spoke yesterday, put their personal animosities aside and come together to ensure our collective safety, security and economic growth.

Israel is a vibrant democracy which gives its citizens the right to vote. The purpose of that vote is to convey to those who are pursuing office the demands of the people. As Winston Churchill said in a speech to the British House of Commons on November 11, 1947, after his party had lost a parliamentary election, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”

If democracy is to be served, Netanyahu should not now run off and think he has won a great victory. Achieving 30 seats in a parliament that needs at least 61 to govern can only be described, at best, as half a victory. His job now, on behalf of the people of Israel, the State of Israel and the Jewish people in whose name he often claims to speak, is to join forces with the other party that achieved almost the same “victory” and realize the vision of the founders of this country: to permit us to live as free people in our land.

To quote another line from Churchill: “Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.”

Are our leaders imbued with sufficient courage for the task? I certainly hope so, for the future of all of us.

If you want to support the drive to urge President Rivlin to use his influence to force a national unity government, join me at 1 p.m. on Friday, March 20, in front of the President’s Residence in a silent vigil in support of this concept.

The author is a 31-year resident of Jerusalem, past national president of the Association of Americans & Canadians in Israel and president of Atid EDI Ltd., a Jerusalem- based economic development firm.

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