On May 7 the UK held a general election, and within a few days incumbent Prime Minister David Cameron will be able to assemble and present a new government, made up exclusively of members of the Conservative Party.
On March 17 Israel held a general election, and on May 6, at the twelfth hour, incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was able to inform the president that he had managed to form a new coalition, made up of the Likud, Kulanu, the Bayit Yehudi, Shas and United Torah Judaism – only just, by the skin of his teeth, and at a cost to the public purse of as much as NIS 8 billion.
There is no doubt that what facilitated the process in the UK is the electoral system. Because the British system provides for 650 single-member constituencies in which the candidate who received the largest number of votes (but not necessarily a majority) takes all, the Conservatives received a majority of the seats – 331 out of 650 – even though the party only received 36.9 percent of the vote. If the Conservatives had received only 36.7% of the seats – 240 out of 650 – Cameron would also have been forced to put together a coalition, and might even have been forced to consider a coalition with the extreme right-wing, anti-EU, anti-immigrant UK Independent Party (UKIP), which received 12.6% of the vote (but only one seat in parliament).
Back in the 1950s it was suggested that if David Ben-Gurion had opted for the British electoral system, by means of gerrymandering (setting the borders of constituencies in a biased manner), Mapai could have ensured that it received over 90% of the Knesset seats.
However, given the makeup of Israeli society, and all the pressures within it, it is doubtful whether such a system could actually work without serious internal tensions, though setting up governments and governing would certainly have been much easier.
Nevertheless, one cannot avoid asking the question of whether Netanyahu’s negotiating team couldn’t have set up the very same coalition at a much lower financial cost, and without selling out on so many Likud interests, in terms of ministerial positions and even values, if Netanyahu were less concerned with his own personal political survival and a little more concerned with the general good.
It is really difficult to fathom the fact that the new coalition will be costing the public purse so much in allocations for the hobbyhorses of the coalition partners, and the preservation/recreation of superfluous ministries and deputy ministers.
Not all the NIS 8b. are objectionable in themselves.
For example, who can object on principle to more money going into education (even though we must see what Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett, as the new education minister, plans to do with the money)? It is also not objectionable on principle that all children and youths up to the age of 18 should receive free dental treatment, or that large sections of the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) community should be lifted from the poverty they live in, though there is certainly a majority in the population who believe that the haredim ought to give something more in return than just consent to join the coalition, especially in terms of increasing their share of bearing the economic and security burdens of the state.
However, the most serious objection to the NIS 8b.figure is that they are not part of a national list of priorities, which at least tries to balance the needs and desires of all parts of the population – including those who are not represented in the coalition, or lack effective spokesmen – and of general national interests and requirements.
Within this context I should like to express my dismay at the statement made by Bennett, following his announcement together with Netanyahu on Wednesday night that an agreement had been reached between the Likud and Bayit Yehudi.
Bennett said that the new government “is not a government for Rightists, Leftists or Centrists – it is a Government for the whole of Am Yisrael.” Well, for starters, “the whole of Am Yisrael’ excludes the Arabs, by definition. But how exactly does this government represent Social Democrats, and left-of-center Liberals? Supposedly Bennett considers incoming Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon to be a Leftist, even though he is, in fact, a right-wing liberal – a breed that not very long ago still felt at home in the Likud, but no longer does.
Nevertheless, those of us who find it difficult to identify with the government which is about to be formed, and who support the positions of parties that will remain in opposition, can console ourselves with the fact that the inner contradictions in this allegedly “natural” coalition will help us in our battle against some of the principles that the Likud itself (or at least parts of the Likud) seek to advance.
Thus, the objection of the Ashkenazi haredim to the “National Law” (Basic Law: Israel the State of the Jewish Nation), and Kulanu’s objection to the intention to weaken the Supreme Court and Israeli human rights organizations, will make the struggle of the opposition (minus Yisrael Beytenu) against legislation on these issues much more likely to succeed.
And what about the prospect of a national unity government? Personally I am against such a government at this juncture, because I believe it is in our national interest to experience the full horror (or bliss, depending on your point of view) of the “natural” chauvinist- religious coalition.
If, however, the coalition supported by 61 of the 120 MKS falters, and new elections are ruled out because the current majority fears losing rather than gaining strength as a result, the conditions of the Zionist Union for joining a national unity government must include the following: First, the exclusion of the Bayit Yehudi – because it objects in principle to the two-state/territorial compromise solution, and is devoid of some of the most basic liberal principles that even the Likud still accepts.
Secondly, the renegotiation of the coalition agreements with the haredim – so that their provisions tally with the general socioeconomic goals of the government, and strike a more satisfactory balance between the rights and duties of the Zionist sections of the population (Right and Left, secular and religious) and the anti-Zionist sections of the population. In addition, no one should be allowed to serve in the government as a deputy minister rather than as a minister, just because he refuses to take an oath of allegiance to the state.
If it were up to me, I would also insist that the national unity government should be committed to fighting against all forms of racism – especially against the Arabs as Arabs, against the Ethiopians and the African refugees because of the color of their skin, and the mutual racism and prejudices that persist between many Mizrahim and Ashkenazim.
But all that is not on the cards at the moment, and we are now left to discover who Netanyahu will decide to appoint to ministerial posts from within his own party.
Whatever his decision, due to his overly generous distribution of ministries to his coalition partners, in the next few days there are going to be a few very embittered and vengeful Likud MKs.
The writer is a retired Knesset employee.