Extract concessions

The country needs and deserves change. That doesn’t necessarily mean a new election or a new prime minister. It means progress.

Israel's Knesset building (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Israel's Knesset building
Who remembers the “good old days” of last December when Israel could still say it had a functioning government?
Never mind that then-defense minister Avigdor Liberman, the head of coalition partner Yisrael Beytenu, had resigned the month before, adding yet another portfolio to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s resume. And forget the constant struggles between Liberman and the religious parties in the coalition on issues like haredi (ultra-Orthodox) enlistment in the IDF and civil marriages.
Despite its tendentious members, the coalition managed to last almost four years and, as Netanyahu boasted on December 24 when he announced the decision to disperse the Knesset and initiate a general election, it could claim some diplomatic, economic and security achievements.
But they apparently weren’t important enough to keep the coalition together. The result has been two successive elections – on April 9 and September 17 – that have produced a stalemate.
Neither the Likud nor Blue and White have the forces to form a coalition. A unity government seems still out of reach, and Liberman has been sticking to his guns about not returning to a coalition with the religious parties without major changes to the relevant issues.
That’s why Monday’s reports that Liberman was considering a return to the right-wing bloc – that would enable Netanyahu to form a 63-seat governing majority and a coalition similar to the one he had before this election year – somewhat puzzling.
With Blue and White’s coalition-forming efforts sputtering, and seemingly barely existent, attention is once again turning to the option of a right-wing government with Liberman.
As Lahav Harkov reported in The Jerusalem Post, Ayelet Shaked has been mediating between Liberman and haredi parties Shas and UTJ, and has talked to the leaders of the haredi factions about ways they can compromise on matters of religion and state. She said she believes “the gaps can be bridged and we can establish a narrow right-wing coalition.”
Publicly, Liberman has stated that he wants a unity government based on Likud and Blue and White, even if Yisrael Beytenu is left out. And on Tuesday, he denied that he was planning to compromise on its demands in coalition talks, saying reports on “compromises on matter so religion and state” are “baseless.”
We hope that Liberman’s denial is sincere. If not, the country will have gone through close to a year of turmoil and two costly elections to basically wind up in the same place it was before we started.
It would have proven to be a huge waste of time and resources, and caused unprecedented damage to the country. Frankly, a third election might be preferable to that.
Liberman initiated the current political crisis. He ran during both elections on campaign promises to ease the stranglehold the haredi parties maintain over aspects of Israeli life – issues of creating civil marriage mechanisms, of breaking up the rabbinate monopoly on religious life, and of spreading the military service burden between all citizens of Israel.
Those are noble motives. If indeed, Liberman has received assurances from Shaked or other brokers that the haredim are willing to back down on their hardline stances for country’s good, then there would indeed be merit to Yisrael Beytenu moving back into the right-wing fold and giving the country its vitally needed government after all these months.
But, if Liberman rejoins the bloc without being able to declare a victory of sorts, and to display the concessions gained, then the country will have lost a year for nothing. And Liberman will not be able to look the tens of thousands of voters who believed in his mission in the face ever again.
The country needs and deserves change.
That doesn’t necessarily mean a new election or a new prime minister. It means progress.