The thunder and lightning of multiple elections have passed, bequeathing Israel another narrow Netanyahu government, apparently. Here are 10 tips Benjamin Netanyahu and his coalition partners would be wise to observe, both to govern responsibly and to achieve real policy goals.
1. Set clear priorities and tackle them sequentially, because running in too many directions simultaneously could lead to mistakes or explosions.
Don’t try to split the post of solicitor-general from attorney-general, change the system of appointing Supreme Court justices, pass a Supreme Court override law, cancel the “breach of trust” offense, cancel Matan Kahana’s reforms in the conversion law and kashrut regulation, pass a new IDF draft law, evacuate Khan al-Ahmar, relax IDF open-fire regulations against terrorists and change the status quo on the Temple Mount – all in your first week in office. Don’t bite off more than you can chew.
2. Rule emphatically but be as inclusive as possible. Stay away from the ugly and divisive bombast of, say, Avigdor Liberman and David Amsalem. Just as settlers are not “fascists,” and ultra-Orthodox Jews are not “parasites,” so too leftists are not “traitors” and secularists are not “Hellenists.”
In general, it would be a good idea to put fetters on this country’s political passions, to tone down the rhetorical heat. After 44 months of relentless and repeat election campaigning, lower the flames. There will be plenty of hot debate about policy that can and ought to be held without hateful rhetoric.
3. Keep Arye Deri away from Finance Ministry, Itamar Ben-Gvir from Public Security Ministry
Foxes do not make good hen house guards, so keep Arye Deri away from the Finance Ministry, and Itamar Ben-Gvir away from the Public Security Ministry.
4. Prepare Israel for war, the right way.
Despite the Abrahamic peace dynamic, Israel must prepare for a broad range of war scenarios. This includes development of a credible Israeli capacity to strike Iranian nuclear targets; preparation for real war on three fronts against an Iranian-led coalition; and the ability to withstand intense missile wars.
Israel must have ground forces capable of swift and crushing maneuvers to attain decisive outcomes by taking the fight deep into enemy territory and breaking its will to fight. In other words, Israel must bring back the doctrine known as hachra’ah (decisive outcome). This will be expensive. The IDF budget and order of battle must be increased.
5. Push back hard against antagonistic international organizations, like the UN Human Rights Council and Amnesty International.
Expel hostile UN agencies from the prime Jerusalem real estate they occupy on Ammunition Hill and in Armon Hanatziv in Jerusalem – including the outrageously regressive United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) and Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
6. Rule emphatically in Area C.
Preserving what is left of Israel’s de-facto sovereign control in Area C of Judea and Samaria means approving settlements, roads and other infrastructure projects that will benefit both Jewish and Arab residents of this area. It also involves dismantling illegal Bedouin and Palestinian settlements that purposefully impinge on strategic routes. This includes the encampment called Khan al-Ahmar, which was erected in E-1 with European Union assistance to deliberately challenge Israeli control of the Jerusalem envelope.
7. Build in and around Jerusalem.
Building in E-1, and expanding Ma’aleh Adumim eastwards too, are best ways to solidify Israel’s long-term hold across the strategic arc from Jaffa to Jericho, which anchors Israel’s hold on the Jordan Valley. Before the 2019 and 2020 elections, Prime Minister Netanyahu said he would move ahead with building 3,500 homes in E-1. Tenders were issued for 1,000 homes in Givat Hamatos, and projects in Atarot and Gilo were announced too. Since then, the projects have stalled. These must advance to keep Jerusalem Zionist and thriving.
8. Retake control of the Temple Mount.
Davka (specifically and defiantly) because Fatah, Hamas and the Israeli Islamist Arab movement have made control of the Temple Mount the centerpiece of their assaults on Israel, and because Mahmoud Abbas’s Palestinian Authority continues to broadcast the venal lie that Israel is threatening the mosque on the mount – now is the time to re-assert Israeli administration of the site.
Despite the sensitivity of the situation, Israel must demonstrate sovereignty. The best way to do this is by expanding Jewish visiting privileges and even basic prayer rights at this most holy of places to the Jewish people.
9. Brook no terror.
Make it clear to the Palestinians that even one bus bomb, G-d forbid, or one round of Kassam rockets, will cost them in tangible real estate and in concrete Israeli assistance of all types. Both Palestinian entities, nasty and corrupt as they are, are 100% capable of halting violence against Israel, when they want to.
Whether on the southern border versus Hamas in Gaza or across the northern borders versus Hezbollah and the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Israel must act to boost Israeli deterrence. This means zero tolerance for booby traps on the fence, missile fire, incendiary kites, drone incursions and the like.
It means targeting Hamas leaders if they fail to maintain the current lull; striking deep inside Syria the minute IRGC bases are identified; and knocking out more Iranian nuclear sites through subterfuge – hopefully with continued clear US backing for this “war between the wars.”
This also means settling for nothing less than overwhelming, sweeping, almost cosmic reform of the corrupt and rejectionist Palestinian Authority before even approaching a discussion of political road maps for the future.
10. Engage the Jewish world around the globe, even though much of it already has decided that Netanyahu is venal and his religious-Zionist and ultra-Orthodox coalition partners are even more so.
It is boorish to portray Israeli society as bisected by two warring narratives: that of a moral, liberal, democratic, universalist Israeli Left, versus an immoral, illiberal, hyper-nationalist, supremacist Israeli Right. This is a false dichotomy, a fictitious portrayal of Israeli society. It must not be allowed to take root. Open channels of respectful Israel-Diaspora dialogue are the way to avoid this.
Israel also must reject the hypocrisy of foreign leaders from Washington to Paris who threaten to downgrade their ties with Israel if Ben-Gvir gets a seat in the cabinet.
For all his crudeness, Ben-Gvir is at least an Israeli patriot who prays for the success of IDF soldiers, unlike the Islamists of Ra’am or the viciously anti-Israel Arab communists of Hadash, who celebrate the killing of IDF soldiers. And I know of no foreign leaders who distanced themselves from Israeli governments that included or sought to include Ra’am, Hadash, or Balad representatives.
In general, Israel must repulse attempts to smear it with a totalitarian brush. Israel is becoming a more conservative, nationalist and religious country, but its democracy is vibrant, its commitment to personal freedoms and human rights remains strong and its contribution to regional stability more salient than ever.
The writer is a senior fellow at The Kohelet Forum and in the research department of Israel’s Defense and Security Forum (Habithonistim). The views expressed here are his own. His diplomatic, defense, political, and Jewish world columns over the past 25 years are archived at davidmweinberg.com