Usually, one’s wishes toward the new year are for good health, prosperity and peace. This year – in light of the rickety political reality we are living in – I would add wishes for political stability, and as a corollary, a reversal of the insane reality created in the Knesset by the opposition in the course of the outgoing Knesset, in which the Knesset’s activity was undermined in many respects.
What are the causes of the political instability?
The basis for the instability, is undoubtedly, first and foremost, fundamental differences of opinion and approach on many major issues, such as Israel’s relations with the Palestinians in general and its Arab citizens in particular, the desired balance between religion and state and between progressive and conservative approaches to the law, and the different priorities as between the welfare state and the free market approaches to economics and society.
However, there is nothing new about these differences of opinion and approach – they existed even before the establishment of the state. The difference is in the balance between two basic approaches, which have progressively shifted with events and the demographic changes that have taken place in the country.
Today the balance within the Jewish society, which constitutes less than 80% of the total population, is strongly tilted to the right-wing – religious side, but what prevents it from gaining a majority in the society as a whole, is the Arab community, which has its own internal divisions; and what prevented it from gaining a majority in the 24th Knesset: namely three smallish right-wing parties that had personal objections to Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu due to the issue of his alleged legal culpability, and his flimsy attitude to personal promises and general agreements he makes.
In the last three and a half years only once did Netanyahu manage to head a government, with Blue and White that survived for just over ten months. Naftali Bennett from Yamina managed to form a rather unlikely right-center-left-Arab coalition that miraculously survived for just over a year. This stalemate might be broken if Netanyahu’s bloc will manage to muster at least 61 Knesset seats in the approaching election, though this in itself does not promise real stability – as we learned when Netanyahu formed his fourth Government in 2015. It was based on a majority of 61, the stability of which one MK from the Likud (Oren Hazan) was able, time and again, to threaten.
As I have stated numerous times in the last three and a half years, the only way that Israel can extricate itself from its current political instability is if the Likud will free itself from its insistence on a right-wing - religious coalition, and opt instead for a moderately liberal right-wing – center coalition based on the Likud, Yesh Atid and the National Unity Party, which other parties might join as secondary partners.
Unfortunately, such a government cannot be formed as long as Netanyahu is leader of the Likud – because such a government will not be useful to him over his trial, and because none of the Likud’s potential partners in such a government is willing to sit in a government with him.
The atrocious relations between coalition and opposition in the 24th Knesset caused a partial breakdown in the smooth functioning of the Knesset. Speeches in the Knesset plenum would never have been sanctioned by the Knesset Ethics Committee [if the Likud had not barred it from the outgoing Knesset], and would never have withstood libel suits against the MKs who had delivered them, if it weren’t for the MKs’ essential immunity. Once again, a solution is easier to offer than to realize.
FROM THE MOMENT the “government of change” was formed in June 2021 the Likud made no secret of the fact that while it accepted the legality of the new government, it did not accept its legitimacy, and that its sole purpose was to bring it down as fast as it could.
For this purpose, the Likud carried out endless filibusters, voted against bills it supported ideologically just to embarrass the government, did nothing to prevent Jewish opposition MKs from giving outrageous, libelous speeches concerning the government, the coalition parties in general, and individual ministers and coalition MKs in particular.
It refused to establish the permanent Knesset committees that are traditionally chaired by the opposition; refused to join permanent committees chaired by the coalition – though its members occasionally attended their meetings either to promote their own bills, or to troll the proceedings. As mentioned, Likud blocked the formation of the Ethics Committee – in which half the members must be from the coalition.
The coalition could do little to overcome these tactics, except swallow a ton of frogs and endless insults on a daily basis, then limit the number of members the Likud would be allowed to appoint to the important permanent committees, if the latter were willing to appoint members to these committees.
Had the coalition agreed to let Likud appoint as many members as it demanded, it would have been able to disrupt the work of the important committees just as it disrupted the work of the plenum.
Of course, nothing can be done now to change what occurred in the Knesset during its 24th term, and the question is whether anything can be done to prevent it in the future.
Since the Likud under Netanyahu was the main generator of the havoc in the Knesset in the last 15 months, I suspect that it is primarily the Likud that must acknowledge the damage that its policy caused to the Israeli parliamentary system, and that even though its frustrations during the past year are understandable, its drastic actions were exaggerated and destructive. The government of change would have fallen sooner or later because of its inner contradictions, without the lies the Jewish opposition invented about it, or the destructive policy it generated against the smooth functioning of the Knesset.
Unfortunately, I do not believe that even if Likud forms the next government it will make the appropriate adaptations in the Knesset’s Rules of Procedure, to prevent any future attempt to implement the sort of policy that it itself implemented in opposition.
Sadly, at present, I cannot see any sort of government being formed after the elections that might have the will or the ability to bring about the necessary changes in the Rules of Procedure and the relevant laws. Nevertheless, in the event that the Likud does form a government, the former members of the government of change are unlikely to act in the destructive manner that the Likud and its partners acted in opposition – even if the rules and laws are not amended.
The writer worked in the Knesset for many years as a researcher and has published extensively both journalistic and academic articles on current affairs and Israeli politics. Her most recent book is Israel’s Knesset Members – A Comparative Study of an Undefined Job, published by Routledge.