The real case for new elections and a new government in Israel

Netanyahu has allowed his government’s agenda to be increasingly dictated by the wishes of two small segments of society rather than the broader public interest.

By LEWIS ROSEN
February 8, 2017 21:29
PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during question time at the Knesset yesterday

PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during question time at the Knesset yesterday. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

 
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The current investigations into allegations of wrongdoing by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will, in time, result in decisions by the attorney-general and courts. However, irrespective of the investigations and their results, there are several compelling reasons to oppose Netanyahu’s continued tenure as prime minister in light of the way he has run his coalition this past year.

Netanyahu has allowed his government’s agenda to be increasingly dictated by the wishes of two small segments of society rather than the broader public interest. The Bayit Yehudi Party is primarily a champion of the “settlement enterprise” in the West Bank/ Judea and Samaria while the Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) parties have vigorously pursued ultra-Orthodox objectives.

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In response to political pressure from Bayit Yehudi, the cabinet devoted an inordinate number of hours in recent months to the fate of Amona, an outpost the High Court of Justice ruled to be illegal and ordered demolished because it was built in part on privately- owned Palestinian property. As part of the torturous process of dealing with Amona, a very expensive compensation package was offered, to be paid for by reducing budgets of various ministries.

In addition, Bayit Yehudi pushed the so-called “settlement regulation bill,” which passed Monday, a controversial piece of legislation that the attorney-general has called “unconstitutional,” which is intended to protect numerous other settlements and outposts that were built partly on land owned by Palestinians from similar court-ordered demolition. While Netanyahu spoke against this bill in the past, he has allowed it to pass.

In parallel fashion, the ultra-Orthodox coalition partners have exerted excessive influence on budget allocations and public policy.

The latter include preventing the implementation of the January 2016 cabinet-approved compromise to allow non-Orthodox prayer at the Robinson’s Arch portion of the Western Wall; reversing a prior decision requiring that English, math and science be taught in all schools; and weakening the requirement that Haredi men perform either military or national service.

More recently, the Shas party drafted legislation that would criminalize mixed-gender services and other practices not in keeping with norms set by the Chief Rabbinate. This week, representatives of the two Haredi parties and Bayit Yehudi called for the rescinding of the cabinet’s January 2016 decision to establish a non-Orthodox prayer site at the Western Wall.



Netanyahu’s impressive longevity as prime minister stems from several factors. Beyond being politically astute, he is also a gifted orator and a strategic thinker. Israel’s economic performance since 2009 has been robust, with unemployment falling below 5% during much of 2016, a record low. Perhaps the main reason for his political longevity is the preference by a major part of the Israeli electorate for center and center-right positions vis-a-vis the Palestinians, and Netanyahu’s views and performance have offered the best fit for that until now.

This preference seems to be a reasonable response to certain harsh realities that have marked the post-Oslo Accords period including:

• The unwillingness of the Palestinian Authority (PA) to accept a two-state solution incorporating major Israeli compromises, as offered by Israel in 2000-01 and in 2008.

• The murderous terrorist war launched by the PA under Yasser Arafat in October 2000, featuring suicide bombings aimed at Israeli civilians.

• The experience with Gaza since Israel withdrew in August 2005.

• The continuing Palestinian embrace of a narrative that totally negates Israel’s legitimacy and denies Jewish historical roots in Israel and Jerusalem. This message is emphasized in Palestinian educational curricula, media and mosques, and is increasingly pushed in UN bodies and other international organizations.

Surveys have shown that a majority of Israelis prefer a two-state solution. However, in light of the post-Oslo experience, and in recognition of the very real dangers that a Palestinian state in much of the West Bank could pose to Israel’s heartland, there would have to be both continuing strong security control by Israel and significant limitations on the sovereignty of such a state, positions that Netanyahu has regularly espoused since his June 2009 Bar-Ilan speech. To judge by election results, these views resonate with the Israeli electorate. This suggests that a successful alternative to Netanyahu would need to have a similar stance on the Palestinian issue.

Could Yair Lapid, leader of the Yesh Atid party, succeed Netanyahu as prime minister? During the past year Lapid has espoused positions on the Palestinian issue that conform to much of the center-right consensus described above. For example, in January 2016 he advocated separation from the Palestinians along with solid security provisos. He said, “The security coordination which exists today – and allows the IDF to act across the West Bank – must continue even after the separation.”

At the Jerusalem Post Diplomatic Conference in November 2016, Lapid echoed center- right concerns about the Palestinians, charging that they “have built a corrupt governing system without an effective judiciary or modern industry,” and saying that the “Palestinian education system poisons the minds of six- and seven-years-olds, every single day, with antisemitic propaganda of the worst kind.”

Recent polls have shown Yesh Atid as the front-runner in parliamentary elections.

However, the distribution of seats in those polls indicate that the Likud and not Yesh Atid would nevertheless have the best chance of building a coalition – one that would be similar to the present one, with all its glaring weaknesses.

Thus, the central goal for Yesh Atid in new elections is not only to emerge as the largest party but to do so with the Likud weakened enough so that it could not form a coalition.

To improve its prospects, Yesh Atid would do well to add someone with extensive military expertise to its list, such as former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon, whose experience and political views might reassure many potential voters. If fully successful, Yesh Atid would be able to build a broad-based coalition without Bayit Yehudi and the ultra-Orthodox parties.

Besides conforming to consensus views visa- vis the Palestinians, such a coalition could also pursue highly worthy goals that the present Netanyahu government has failed to pursue, such as: requiring English, math, science to be taught to all students; pushing for a fairer distribution of IDF/national service responsibilities; implementing the Western Wall compromise; and shifting some of the budget away from Bayit Yehudi and ultra-Orthodox priorities. Regarding settlements, it could limit future construction to the Jerusalem neighborhoods and the large settlement blocs that are going to be a negotiated part of Israel once the Palestinians are finally ready for a durable end-of-conflict agreement. All of this would be a welcome change.

The author is a retired economist who has lived in Jerusalem for over 30 years.

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