Know comment: No to a ‘national unity’ government

A Likud-Labor coalition would mean paralysis in every policy realm

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)
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)
There is a case to be made that the State of Israel would have an easier time managing its international diplomatic challenges if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were to bring Isaac “Buji” Herzog’s Labor Party into his next coalition government.
Israel would be somewhat better placed to resist President Barack Obama’s pressures on the Palestinian front, and to counter the P5+1 accord of appeasement that strengthens Iran. World Jewry would feel better about Israel, too.
But a so-called “national unity government” would be anything but effective.
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It would be a recipe for national paralysis in every policy realm. Nothing would get done, because the Likud and Labor would be tugging in different directions on national, constitutional, legal and economic policy matters.
It would also be an unstable government, with constant backstabbing and infighting.
And it would be a flagrant violation of Netanyahu’s explicit promise to his voting base not to head in this direction.
ON ONE THING, every single Israeli political party agrees: That the country has been beset by policy stalemates for too long in almost all fields. In fact, this was a key message propagated by the Likud, Zionist Union, Kulanu, Yesh Atid, Bayit Yehudi, Yisrael Beytenu and Meretz during the recent election campaign.
All the parties correctly sensed public dissatisfaction with the status quo. They set themselves up as a potentially proactive fix to malaise and gridlock in government.
Every single one of them pledged reform.
Well, the Likud won big, and now it’s time for Netanyahu to deliver the promised goods: real restructuring of key mechanisms of governance, genuine economic relief for the masses, and clear direction in matters of diplomacy and national identity.
None of this will be possible if the Likud and Labor are castrated by an unnatural union. They won’t be able to agree on any of the deep reforms necessary to advance Israel. Labor’s fealty to the ultra-liberal legal elite that has a lock-hold on Israeli decision making; its big-government, socialist commitments; and its hyper-sensitivity to international public opinion, will stymie the critical transformations needed in budget and policy.
HERE IS a quick review of 10 super-important policy modifications that can come about only if a conservative-nationalist coalition forms the next government.
1. Housing: The Israel Lands Authority must sell off all unplanned urban lands slated for eventual development. The government must radically streamline regulation in zoning, planning and building. This is the only way to truly bring down the high price of housing. Labor under Shelly Yacimovich fought such reforms tooth and nail, because the free market and privatization principles run up against her party’s socialist leanings.
2. Banking: Regulatory hurdles preventing Internet banking must be eliminated.
The Labor-affiliated big banking elite (Bank Hapoalim and more) is adamantly opposed to this.
3. Food: All statutory powers must be stripped away from the “moatzot yetzur,” the state-protected “production councils” in the food industry, in order to bring about true competition and bring down food prices.
These behemoth, archaic cartels were established by the Kibbutz Movement, which still holds significant sway in the Labor Party.
4. Legal advisers: Ministers must be allowed to choose their own legal advisers.
The role of the attorney-general and ministry legal advisers must be redefined so that their advice is advice, not a ruling that binds the hands of elected officials. Moreover, the role of the attorney-general and the Justice Ministry High Court department should be required to represent the government and its agencies in court according to the interests of their clients, as is the case in the US and other democracies. Labor (and especially its new Zionist Union ally, former justice minister Tzipi Livni) opposes these essential reforms.
5. Prosecution: The roles of the attorney- general and the state attorney should be split, so that the attorney-general can’t use the threat of prosecution as leverage against elected officials. Past Labor governments rejected this, even though many prominent legal experts are in favor of the change.
6. Courts: The way judges are appointed needs to be changed so that sitting judges don’t appoint their own successors. Only Israel has such a convoluted and inherently corrupting method of appointing judges. Livni blocked any judicial reforms in previous governments.
7. Religious identity: Moves to legally recognize non-Orthodox (“alternative”) forms of Jewish marriage and divorce must be blocked, in order to maintain the essential legal and halachic unity of Jewish identity in Israel, and to avoid the Jewish identity disorder that has befallen the Diaspora. I’m in favor of significant reforms of the “Rabbinocacy” (the Chief Rabbinate bureaucracy), and supportive of the conversion reforms passed in the last Knesset session. But stripping the rabbinate of its official monopoly in conversion- marriage-divorce would be ruinous.
Unfortunately, Labor leaders want to dismantle the official rabbinate.
8. National identity: It is time to rebuild a correct, delicate balance between Israel’s democratic character and its Jewish character. Unfortunately, no such balance exists in practice, because Israel’s Jewish character, unlike its democratic character, is not anchored in any Basic Law.
Consequently the courts have ruled in an unbalanced way on a variety of statutes and government policies involving Israel’s Jewish character. The Likud’s proposed Basic Law: Israel as the Nation State of the Jewish People is intended to address this asymmetry and to encourage a more sophisticated legal discourse regarding the tension between universal and national/ Jewish considerations. Labor and Livni are opposed.
9. Jerusalem: The new government must act with alacrity to strengthen Israel’s sovereignty in Jerusalem via a wide range of actions: investment in development of the eastern (mostly Arab) part of the city; a concomitant security crackdown on troublemakers in eastern Jerusalem; massive building of homes on the periphery of Jerusalem (including in Givat Hamatos, Har Homa and the E-1 corridor toward Ma’aleh Adumim); and a reinvigorated Jewish presence on the Temple Mount including Jewish prayer rights. Labor will be shy, at best, about assertion of these fundamental rights and national goals.
10. Defense: The military budget must be significantly increased to meet the challenges of Iran and the Islamic winter, and prepare for sustained ground warfare in Lebanon and Gaza, along with the expected massive missile attacks on the Israeli home front. Labor’s wild election season promises to hand out cash and subsidies to just about every weak sector in society would prevent a Labor-associated government from truly boosting the defense budget. And would Labor back a strike on Iran? In short, Netanyahu should live up to his electoral promise to form a conservative- nationalist government that will truly govern with a clear direction, leaving Labor to play an important role on behalf of Israeli democracy in the opposition.