As we move into the New Year 5780, our dysfunctional political system seems to have sunk to an all-time low. There is now a complete deadlock that could have been avoided had there been a more intelligent electoral system.
But one thing seems clear: Benjamin Netanyahu will have at most a two-year term of office before he retires (and if he is indicted, it could be less). But that will require either Benny Gantz or Avigdor Liberman to be the first to blink. That Tzachi Hanegbi and other senior Likud leaders have already proclaimed they would never agree to another election is hardly an incentive for Liberman and the Center-Left to accept either a Netanyahu government or a unity government with Netanyahu taking the first turn in a rotating premiership.
The impasse could persist for months, during which time there will be no functioning government, and chaos will ensue as the attorney-general and the courts will be constantly called upon to reject legislation or acts that do not have the endorsement of an elected government or the majority of the Knesset.
This is a critical period as we enter the last year of US President Donald Trump’s current term with a peace plan possibly being launched and the prospects of armed conflict on the horizon. Israel also needs maximum coordination to ensure that it is not forsaken in the context of a possible US-Iran détente. There is also the issue of the Jordan Valley and settlement bloc annexation, which has the consensus of the nation but could be lost if we delay. For this and our tightrope relationship with the Russians, I am fearful that an alternative to Netanyahu lacks both experience and savvy to negotiate these delicate issues.
Netanyahu has served a record-breaking number of years as prime minister and he will be recorded as probably the most effective of all Israeli leaders. History will extol his handling of security, the economy, alerting the world to the Iranian nuclear threat and, above all, breaking down barriers and transforming Israel from a pariah status to a country enjoying unprecedented relations with the US, Russia, India, China, Latin America, Africa, Southeast Asia and now even moderate Sunni Arab states.
But all good things come to an end. For Netanyahu to try to carry on as head of a caretaker government at this juncture could also be disastrous. Unless he has a rabbit to pull out of his hat in a matter of days, he should bow out graciously and, in the national interest, offer his services to his successor.
The Likud and Blue and White representatives should agree on the major issues about which they share a consensus and invite those who agree to their terms to join and form as broad a government as possible. This would exclude the anti-Zionist Joint List. However, it should include the haredim, on condition that their representatives cannot veto legislation desired by the two leading parties, that military or national service is gradually introduced among their young men, and that secular studies are reintroduced into their schools. The latter in particular would encourage their youngsters to grow into self-sufficient adults rather than subsisting on welfare payments. The haredim must be willing to share a government with Liberman and Lapid and their parties; and should Lapid or Liberman refuse to share power with the haredim, they should be directed to the opposition.
The ultimate objective of a broader new government must be to rectify the social problems and tensions that have been created as a result of sectoral pressures. It must seek to unify the nation by breaking down the barriers between the different sectors, including also Arab Israelis who are willing to act as loyal citizens.
If Netanyahu persists in dragging out the duration of a caretaker government, he will be preventing the formation of a broad coalition. Should we be faced with a military confrontation, regardless of how Netanyahu responds, his decision will be ascribed by his critics to a leader more concerned about his own status than the national interest. He should step down with dignity now, and the appointee of the Likud representing the greatest number of supporters should take the first term as prime minister in a rotation with Blue and White.
The writer’s website can be viewed at www.wordfromjerusalem.com