Netanyahu looking morose at cabinet meeting 370.
(photo credit: GPO)
The task of governance is often divided into two components – high politics and
High politics refers to those tasks which are closely
related to the prerogatives and responsibilities of sovereignty, primarily
foreign affairs and national defense. Low politics encompasses almost all other
matters, from economics to culture to education, from the rule of law to the
personal status of each and every citizen.
On the basis of this
schematic, Israel’s recently formed government is a true hybrid, the first such
government in the nation’s modern history.
The leading party in the
current coalition, Likud Beytenu, has a near monopoly on matters of high
It controls the office of the prime minister, the Defense
Ministry and the Foreign Ministry. It also chairs the Knesset Foreign Affairs
and Defense Committee and maintains a strong majority in the so-called “inner
cabinet” which has informal responsibility over all matters of national
For reasons of politics, Israel’s current government even
created a brand new ministry of International Relations – which might just as
well be called the ministry of high politics – and that too is controlled by
Likud Beytenu’s dominance in matters of high politics is
In the election which preceded the formation of the
current government, only the Tzipi Livni Party – Hatnua – humbly headed by
Tzipora Livni, who served as Israel’s foreign minister in Ehud Olmert’s
discredited government, directly challenged Likud Beytenu and its leader,
Binyamin Netanyahu, for the position of prime minister. And her party was
trounced by Likud Beytenu, which out-polled Hatnua by more than five to one. To
underscore this thrashing, Netanyahu appointed Livni to the position of justice
minister in his current government, an appointment which underscores her
demotion from high politics to low politics.
Livni is not the only
coalition partner of Likud Beytenu to be relegated to the level of low politics.
The same fate was meted out to Likud Beytenu’s other coalition partners Yair
Lapid, the head of the Yesh Atid party, and Naftali Bennett, the leader of Bayit
Yehudi. The portfolios received by these two parties, as important as they may
be with regard to domestic Israeli politics, hardly touch upon matters of
sovereignty and security. And rightfully so – during the course of the election
campaign which preceded the formation of the current coalition Yair Lapid and
his Yesh Atid party all but ignored issues of foreign affairs and national
defense. Bennett openly endorsed Netanyahu for the position of prime
To be sure, Netanyahu did not have many options when building
the current coalition. His party won far too few seats for him to rule
unfettered over both high and low politics. And the polity – we the people – was
no longer willing to allow the ruling party to expend the public’s largess on
the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) parties just to keep Yuval Steinitz in the Finance
Ministry and Gilad Erdan in the Education Ministry. As such, when building his
coalition Netanyahu really had only two choices – share the responsibility of
governance – both high and low – with his three coalition partners or cut the
pie of governance in half, ceding control over low politics to his partners and
garnering for himself and his party control over high politics. Netanyahu chose
the second option, imagining that he took for himself and his party the larger
half of the pie. And so was born Israel’s first-ever hybrid
Can the hybrid government which Netanyahu created generate
the stability Israel needs so desperately? Most trained political scientists
would answer this question with a resounding “no.” Israel’s political structures
are notoriously weak. Its constitution is all but absent. Its system is designed
to function without a strong separation of powers principle.
the delicate balance between the executive branch of government and the
legislative branch of government simply does not exist.
branch of the Israeli government may well be even more compromised and
politicized then the other two branches. Worse yet, ever since the Oslo Accords,
Israel’s national consensus, which once sustained its weak political structures,
has all but dissolved. One would be hard pressed to find strong common ground
between the vitriolic anti-capitalist rhetoric so favored by Shelly Yacimovich
and her haredi amen corner, and the social and economic ideals favored by the
Cohens from Hadera and their political representatives.
But some trained
political scientists are also Zionists, indeed right-wing Zionists. And we would
answer the above question with a “yes” – not a resounding “yes” but a
conditional “yes.” Our “yes” is conditional upon Netanyahu’s ability to remove
the question of the territories – the final disposition of Judea and Samaria –
from the arena of low politics to the arena of high politics. As long as the
issue is defined as a matter of settlements – who lives where and under what
conditions – that is, as a factor in low politics, it will destabilize the
hybrid government by serving as a conduit for undermining the weak consensus
between Lapid and Bennett, the consensus which compelled Netanyahu to create the
hybrid government in the first place.
And for this reason there is no
doubt that at first blush Netanyahu will imagine that undermining this consensus
is in his interest and the interest of his party. But upon reflection, we are
convinced that Netanyahu will meet the challenge, and for the sake of political
stability and so much more clearly define the issue of the territories as one of
high politics. That is, as one of sovereignty.
From Israel’s perspective
it matters not who lives where and under what conditions on either side of the
green line. All that matters is who is the sovereign over the territory located
within the boundaries of the State of Israel. And it is Netanyahu’s challenge to
align the boundaries of the sovereign state with the boundaries of the Hebrew
Bible. Anything else will destabilize his hybrid government.
teaches Jewish history at the Hebrew University and is the rabbi of Minyan
HaMa’ayan in the Rimon section of Efrat. He also imports high quality kosher
Italian wine to Israel under the Sentieri Ebraici label.