Israel Elections: Can we trust another 'rotation' government? - Analysis

The rotation idea didn’t work and failed to provide Israel with the stability it so badly needs. And if it didn’t work last time, why imagine that it will work next time?

INFLATABLE COSTUMES depict Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his main coalition partner, Defense Minister Benny Gantz, at a demonstration in Jerusalem in August. (photo credit: AMMAR AWAD/REUTERS)
INFLATABLE COSTUMES depict Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his main coalition partner, Defense Minister Benny Gantz, at a demonstration in Jerusalem in August.
(photo credit: AMMAR AWAD/REUTERS)
The Jewish mind comes up with inventions, Uri Zohar sang in the classic song “Shir Hapatentim” in 1962.
And there is more than a little truth in that. But not every Jewish, or Israeli, invention or patent works, or should be employed.
Take, for example, the idea of a rotation government.
With the elections now just over a week away, and polls showing a toss-up in the race between the camp that wants to see Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu remain in power, the pro-Bibi camp, and the camp that wants to unseat him, the anti-Bibi camp, there is much speculation about the formation of a rotation government.
Perhaps Yesh Atid head Yair Lapid, New Hope chairman Gideon Sa’ar and Yamina chief Naftali Bennett will decide to join a coalition together, and actually agree to a three-way rotation at prime minister if none of those parties ends up with a commanding lead over the other two. Or, even if Yesh Atid does garner significantly more votes, Lapid might offer a rotation to Bennett to get him into the government, without which Lapid might not have a coalition.
Or maybe Bennett will form a government with Netanyahu, giving the prime minister his prized 61-seat coalition, only if Netanyahu agrees to split the time at the helm with him. (Netanyahu ruled out that option in a speech on Sunday, but he might change his mind after the election if he has no other choice to form a government.)
But the very discussion of a rotation before the nation even goes to the polls is unseemly.
When Israelis go to vote a week from Tuesday, they will be casting their ballot for parties to choose one leader, not to choose a relay team. After more than two years now of government instability, Israel needs one person to hold the gavel at the cabinet meetings for a full tenure, or at least close to a full tenure.
The collapse of the Netanyahu-Benny Gantz government just months after a rotation deal was agreed upon, and Knesset laws altered to accommodate it, shows that the rotation idea does not work.
Netanyahu reneged on a pledge in the agreement to pass a two-year budget, thereby ultimately bringing down the government, while Blue and White failed as well to live up to other – though arguably less central – clauses in the agreement.
In short, the rotation idea didn’t work and failed to provide Israel with the stability it so badly needs. And if it didn’t work last time, why imagine that it will work next time?
Some argue that a rotation government is better than having a prime minister on trial whose attention will naturally be diverted by his case being heard three times a week in a Jerusalem court.
But if there is a rotation agreement, does that once again mean there will be a parity government, and that the prime minister cannot dismiss ministers from the party that makes up the other side of the parity agreement. If so, that is a recipe for continued paralysis and an inability to make critical decisions.
If there is another rotation government, does that mean we will again have the unbecoming debate about whether the alternate prime minister gets a full security detail and prime ministerial housing, and if the prime minister who serves first keeps all the perks of his job when he turns over the reins?
Others will argue that the idea can work, because it worked in the past.
And, yes, Israel has had a rotation government once before: in 1984 when the Labor Party headed by Shimon Peres won 44 seats, and Likud under Yitzhak Shamir won 41 seats, but neither could form a government. The two leaders, though political rivals, trusted each other, they honored their words, and two years after serving as prime minister, Peres did indeed move aside and allow Shamir to take control.
That’s the only time it worked. But there was one major difference then: That was a rotation agreement between two large parties of nearly equal size.
This time, the rotation talk involves one large party (Likud, predicted by the polls to win some 28-30 seats), one medium-sized party (Yesh Atid, polling at 19-20 seats) and two small parties (Yamina and New Hope, each polling in the vicinity of 10-12 seats, with Yamina now polling ahead of New Hope).
If Netanyahu rotates with Bennett, that would mean a large party with a small one – not two large parties of about the same size. It is one thing for a small party needed for a coalition to demand senior ministries, but the premiership? Isn’t that going a bit far?
And if Lapid would rotate with Sa’ar and Bennett, that would open a Pandora’s box. Why stop with only those three? Why not throw Yisrael Betenyu’s Avigdor Liberman into the mix, especially if he wins only two or three fewer seats than one of the other parties?
Obviously such a scenario is a recipe for chaos, and the head of the largest party in this anti-Netanyahu coalition should be charged with setting up the government, if he is able to do so, and being prime minister – for the full term.
Ironically, it was none other than Shas head Arye Deri who said last week that his party would not support a prime ministerial rotation. Why ironic? Because Deri himself said on national television last April 21, when asked by an interviewer if he would ensure that the Netanyahu-Gantz rotation agreement be carried out, “Yes, with God’s help.
On Thursday, he said, “I promise, in light of the experience of the last year, there won’t be a rotation or mutation. We’re done with this thing.”
Done, because it simply didn’t work; because it proved completely unwieldy, a poor form of governance.
Few companies would want a situation where a CEO is appointed for two years, to then be replaced by someone else who may take the business into a different direction. If it is not good for a company – if it would send mixed messages to shareholders about the direction of the firm – then all the more so when dealing with a country.
Which is also the reason why with only a few very recent exceptions, no other country has adopted this uniquely Israeli tag-team form of governance. According to an entry in Wikipedia, the only two other countries that are trying something similar is Ireland – whose Prime Minister Micheál Martin will hand over his job to Leo Varadkar at the end of 2022 – and North Macedonia.
While the world has adopted numerous other Israeli inventions and innovations, from Waze to drip irrigation, this one they have stayed clear of. Why? Because it is just too cumbersome.

That it worked once 37 years ago – in a different era with a different caliber of leadership – does not mean it can work again today. All one has to do is look at what happened over the past year. We’ve had a rotation government since last May: How well is that working for everyone?