A historic opportunity for Israel

The criticism from some quarters has been astonishing, with many accusing the Likud and Yisrael Beytenu of losing their principles.

Liberman and Netanyahu 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/ The Jerusalem Post)
Liberman and Netanyahu 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/ The Jerusalem Post)
The decision by the Likud and Yisrael Beytenu to run on one ticket in the elections for the 19th Knesset has been poured over by commentators and pundits from the Left and the Right.
However, most have missed the real significance of this move.
Almost four years ago, after the election results in 2009 were known, Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman called on the leaders of the two largest parties – the Likud and Kadima – to join together and pass legislation on political and electoral reform essential for the nation’s future. Unfortunately, Kadima chairwoman Tzipi Livni balked at the idea and we were left with a system which on the eve of the 2013 elections sees almost twice the number of parties as in the previous elections.
While the current government has known almost unprecedented stability, this has been the exception rather than the rule in the more than six decades since the State of Israel’s founding. Many have pointed to foreign or defense issues, or to the economy, as central in these elections. While all these are vital issues, meeting each of these challenges individually would only cure a symptom of the far great malaise which is our government system.
DURING THE past 16 years, there have been 11 housing ministers and the same number of transportation ministers. There are similar figures for many other ministries of equal importance. How is it possible for a minister to set out and implement a long-term policy or vision if he serves on average less than one-and-a-half years? In addition, during many governments, due to the number of parties, sometimes with opposing interests, the prime minister has to spend much of his time managing the coalition and not enough time managing the country.
In the current government, we have an unprecedented situation whereby the ruling party was a minority in its own coalition. This government was able to achieve so much, with a high level of stability, despite the system and certainly not because of it.
However, the situation will only get worse in the coming years, until the point of paralysis is reached.
An example of this is the fact that the growing number of Israelis who do not serve our country and do not contribute equally to the national burden will in a generation or two become a majority. This will mean that a minority of Israelis will serve in the army or national service, and work and pay taxes to support our expanding economy, until it reaches collapse. However, nothing will be done about this situation because those who contribute fully will become a minority, and thus unable to have their problems addressed at the ballot box.
It is clear that the problems of reforming our political and electoral system, equalizing the national burden, and many other equally pressing issues must be solved in the next Knesset, before it is too late.
The unity agreement between the Likud and Yisrael Beytenu is the first step in this direction and allows their agenda for the next Knesset to be presented in a mutual platform to the public now, and not behind closed doors amid coalition haggling.
This platform allows the public to make an informed choice on Election Day and, one hopes, to take this historic opportunity for real change in Israel.
The criticism from some quarters has been astonishing, with many accusing the Likud and Yisrael Beytenu of losing their principles.
However, this political scare tactic is not based in fact.
Both parties were founded on Revisionist ideals, and no two parties on the political spectrum have as much in common and have had as similar voting patterns over the past four years.
It is simply bizarre that some on the Left are invoking Ze’ev Jabotinsky and Menachem Begin who were themselves previous recipients of smear campaigns.
Today, these same smears have seemingly been resurrected in order to attack Foreign Minister Liberman.
That Liberman’s opponents are stooping to ad hominem attacks proves that this opposition is not substantive but is desperate and unbalanced.
Throughout the early decades of the state, Begin was equally lambasted and his opposition frequently used scare tactics to avoid discussing policy issues.
This tactic reached a height before the elections which he won in 1977.
However, the parallel with those elections does not end there.
Some four decades ago, Herut, the Liberal Party and other parties united to form the Likud Party which won the elections in 1977, ending the rule of the Left and the stagnation that had been allowed to seep into the political system.
The Likud-Yisrael Beytenu unity deal could revolutionize the political map in a similar fashion. This is an historic opportunity for the State of Israel and we can not let it slip through our fingers, because the elections for the 20th Knesset may be too late.
The writer is deputy minister of foreign affairs and a member of Knesset for Yisrael Beytenu.