Stable government – Israel’s strategic necessity

Is it time yet for courageous leadership?

21st Knesset (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
21st Knesset
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Momentous challenges face Israel today, as always: Iran, delegitimization, Hamas and Hezbollah, Arab/Palestinian hostility and intransigence, social/economic issues, growing European antagonism, electoral reform, religious pluralism.
Re-read this list. It is striking how very similar the platforms, policies and pronouncements of Likud Party head Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White Party head Benny Gantz are. Yes, in the run-up to elections, all focus was on what distinguishes them, but that’s electioneering. In governing, and in looking to create a coalition, what they have in common is more important, and clear.
The term “national unity government” is not relevant here. That’s a concept for wartime, as in 1967. What makes sense now is to focus on the policies we agree are crucial to pursue. And it soon becomes obvious that the centrist elements in the Likud and Blue and White not only share mostly the same Zionist, liberal ideology but also a strong sense of national determination, social justice and a willingness to use military force defensively when necessary.
Here’s a bit of déjà vu: I wrote a similar article in 2015, and we faced a similar situation in 2009, when Tzipi Livni’s Kadima Party refused to put the national good ahead of personal and partisan interests. (That didn’t turn out so well for either Livni or Kadima... or, and mostly, the country.)
This is not the place to list the proofs, but even a cursory review of their positions demonstrate how close they really are. They agree on preventing Iranian nuclear weaponization, on Israel’s defensive military operations, on the Jordan Valley, even on building in Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem and within existing Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria, and on retaining the larger communities in the territories (the major “settlement” blocs), let alone on the need for reforms in housing, land, electoral and religious-services policies, as well as on national service/draft issues.
Don’t believe all the news reports – Israeli or international. The differences are a matter of nuance, not principle. Gantz is on record as being just as skeptical of the motives and capabilities of the current Palestinian leadership. And the PM is no less interested in “peace” than the former IDF chief of staff is. (As journalist Ari Shavit has said on CNN, Bibi is “one of the most moderate figures” in the center-right bloc. And Shavit is no fan of Bibi.) They agree on applying Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan valley and blocs of Israeli communities in Judea and Samaria.
The personalities involved – Netanyahu, Rivlin, Gantz, Lapid, Ya’alon, Ashkenazi, Liberman (all men, but that’s a discussion for another time) – have worked together in the past and can do so in the future, irrespective of indictments pending against Bibi, or at least until he’s indicted, when things can change (and the best of the lot, Yuli Edelstein, #1 on the Likud list after Bibi, can take the helm of the Likud).
THIS IS a time, therefore, for courageous leadership – and the three men positioned to demonstrate visionary leadership for Israel today are Netanyahu, Gantz and President Reuven Rivlin. They can – and should – make up for Tzipi Livni’s most malignant mistake, when as head of Kadima, after the election in 2009, she rejected Bibi’s invitation to join the government, in spite of the clear policy positions they shared.
Benny Gantz is not Tzipi Livni. His integrity and concern for the national good surpasses his ego. He can comfortably serve as a senior member in Bibi’s cabinet, as he did as Bibi’s chief of staff. But more: He can gain so much more by doing so than he can ever hope to reap as head of the opposition. As defense or finance minister (or education or foreign minister), Gantz can not only pursue the issues most important to him, but he can position himself as a competent politician and statesman.
Similarly, Bibi Netanyahu is not Ehud Olmert. Olmert refused to invite the Likud (his former party and natural ally) to join his government in 2006 due to his personal rivalry with Netanyahu, leader of the Likud then as now. Bibi not only can work with Gantz; he of all people knows that now, after elections, we all – and he in particular – can forget the various things said in the campaign. This is almost certainly Bibi’s last term as prime minister. He wants, and needs, to be seen as a national figure of historic stature.
For Bibi, this will assure his legacy; for Gantz, this will demonstrate his leadership capabilities. For Netanyahu, it’s a stepping stone into history; for Gantz, a stepping stone into the PM’s office.
Carrying out the major reforms needed to stabilize the political system and the economy, and to improve our relations with our neighbors and friends/allies around the world, can only be done with a strong centrist government not held hostage by any of the smaller, sectoral and interest-driven parties.
There are a number of other natural partners for such an enterprise. Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu aspires to be seen as “centrist” (whether center-right or center-left) and cull voters from various sectors. Even the religious parties, and to a certain extent Labor, seek the same. Elements of Yamina – in spite of the name – are also moderate in their approach to many policy issues. A government with any combination of them – or all of them – will be stable precisely as it will not be vulnerable to threats from any of them. Yet a government thus composed will be a true reflection of the consensus in Israel: fiercely proud, committed to social welfare and a liberal economy, strong on security, cautiously willing to pursue accommodation with our neighbors, respectful of tradition but championing individual rights and freedoms.
What a miracle it will be if over this Shabbat, when we are powerfully reminded of the humility of Moses as well as his far-sighted leadership of the embryonic Jewish nation, Bibi and Gantz and Rivlin can rise above the petty politics of these past few months (and years) and create the stable, strong, visionary government coalition the majority of Israelis so clearly wants and deserves.
The writer is the author of My Israel Trail ( and the chief strategy officer of Energiya Global, a Jerusalem-based renewable energy platform for Africa. He was a senior adviser to Natan Sharansky in the Prime Minister’s Office, and the founder and director of MediaCentral (, a Jerusalem project of HonestReporting.