The new national unity government

I believe that the new coalition deserves to be given a fair chance.

Shaul Mofaz 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Shaul Mofaz 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Like everyone else in Israel I went to sleep last Monday night believing that elections to the 19th Knesset would be held on September 4, and woke up the following morning to the reality of a new national unity government. My first reaction to the news was to blurt out: “the clever bastards.”
Why? Otto von Bismarck said in 1867 that “politics is the art of the possible.” Binyamin Netanyahu, Ehud Barak and Shaul Mofaz managed to pull off a political maneuver that a week earlier most observers would have considered impossible.
The public outrage concerning the maneuver, which has been described as political cynicism at its worst, is understandable, but not really justified. I don’t think that political cynicism is the term to describe what happened. Opportunism – or rather taking advantage of an opportunity – seems to be a more suitable description. It is no secret that neither Netanyahu, Barak nor Mofaz were excited about the prospect of early elections in the first place, and two of the three – Barak and Mofaz – had serious misgivings since opinion polls showed that Kadima would be decimated, while Barak’s Independence Party would probably fail to pass the qualifying threshold.
It should also be noted that if Netanyahu hadn’t reached the conclusion two weeks ago that his coalition was unlikely to survive the approaching political storms, and that therefore early elections were preferable, the option of a national unity government with Kadima wouldn’t have emerged at this juncture. But once it did emerge none of the three party leaders could ignore its advantages. For Barak and Mofaz the new coalition is a political life saver. For Netanyahu it is a means of getting through the political storms on the national level without new elections, and a time frame in which to try and resolve some internal problems within the Likud that manifested themselves during its Conference a week ago Sunday, and threaten to split the party for the second time in seven years.
One of the major criticisms of the new coalition is that it commands (at least for the moment) the support of 94 out of the 120 Knesset Members. It is pointed out that an opposition of 26 MKs is much too small to be effective, or to ensure the proper functioning of the Knesset within the Israeli democratic system. In fact, this is not the broadest coalition that Israel has had. The coalition of the 1984-86 national unity government was even larger (96-97 MKs), but that government managed to pull Israel out of a serious economic crisis and put a temporary halt to the growing polarization in the Israeli society without destroying its democratic fabric.
The question is what the new national unity government will achieve. I have no idea whether those who say that the new coalition increases the chances of Netanyahu and Barak attacking Iran before the presidential elections in the US next November, have any basis for their prediction. All I can say is that I hope they are wrong. However, if the current government is be strong enough to introduce the stringent budget that the current economic situation calls for; to introduce a viable alternative to the problematic Tal Law with regard to the military or national service of all sections of the Israeli population; to find a legally and socially acceptable interim solution to the problem of illegal settlement activities in the West Bank; to renew the peace process with the Palestinians before the next outbreak of violence; to introduce some necessary changes in the Israeli system of government; and to seriously contend with some of the justified demands of the social protest movement – dayenu.
I must admit that I am somewhat skeptical about the ability of the new government to fulfill all, or even most of these hopes in a brief period of 18 months. My skepticism also results from the fact that there are too many inner contradictions in the coalition, and that it is not at all certain that Netanyahu is willing to come to loggerheads with the religious parties on the one hand, and the settlers’ camp within his own party on the other, in order to seriously contend with the issues. Furthermore, it is not clear what changes Kadima wishes to introduce in the system of government (has anyone seen its proposal?), whether the IDF is really prepared to absorb thousands of haredim while maintaining its current ethos (for example, with regard to women), and whether the peace process is salvageable.
Nevertheless, I believe that the new coalition deserves to be given a fair chance. If it succeeds, even partially – we all gain. If it fails – the electorate will have a much better basis for evaluating its options before the next general elections.
The writer teaches at the Max Stern Yezreel Valley College and was a Knesset employee for many years.