Think About It: Blue and White has an election platform

Israel is the parliamentary democracy in which there is the highest rate of private legislation – around 50%.

Benny Gantz
In my article last week I mistakenly wrote that the Blue and White Party didn’t “really have a clear program or plans on anything.” For this I must apologize to Blue and White.
The party published a 45-page election platform on March 6, 2019, heading toward the election to the 21st Knesset. My only excuse for having forgotten about the platform was that hardly anyone in Blue and White mentioned it during the succession of election campaigns. MK Ofer Shelah (Yesh Atid), who was involved in writing the document, was one of the few exceptions.
The 45-page platform is, in fact, a much shorter and obscure version of a 206-page platform published by Yesh Atid in February 2019, just before Blue and White was formed. Shelah was also one of the authors of this massive document, having written an extensive chapter in it on security issues. I admit that I never read the 206-page manifesto but understand that it was much less ambiguous than the Blue and White platform on security issues, the desired solution to the Palestinian problem, issues related to religion and state, and several other controversial issues.
Nevertheless, after reading the 45-page document, one can certainly point out where the differences are between the positions of Blue and White and the Likud (even though there is no equivalent Likud document), and where there appears to be a large measure of agreement.
Unlike the Likud (and its main spokesman, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu), Blue and White does not advocate unilateral annexations of territory in Judea and Samaria, though it also rejects additional unilateral disengagements, such as that in Gush Katif 15 years ago. Unlike the Likud, Blue and White advocates a more balanced policy vis-à-vis the United States and liberal American Jews. Unlike the Likud, it advocates positive steps to save Israel’s agricultural sector from ruin; to encourage appeasement rather than incitement, and unity rather than division in the Israeli society; to strengthen the rule of law and the gatekeepers; to combat corruption and anti-democratic trends within the government; to balance the Nation-Law with a basic law that promises equality of personal rights to all citizens; to change the status quo on matters of religion and state (even though the term “status quo” is not mentioned).
The congruities are much more numerous than the discrepancies on such issues as economic growth, the development of infrastructures, and solving the housing problem and public health crisis, though there might be differences of opinion about the exact means. It should be noted that both the Likud and Blue and White advocate capitalist solutions, even when social-democratic solutions might on occasion be preferable. For example, there is no way to provide sufficient welfare housing for the poor and affordable housing for young couples without deep government involvement in the planning and execution.
All this does not suggest that the Blue and White platform is an exemplary document. First of all, even in its relatively limited dimensions, it still resembles an incoherent shopping list rather than a serious coordinated work plan. Since Israel has never had a single-party government, the chances of a single party realizing all or most of its proposed plans and projects is virtually nil.
Even if by some miracle Blue and White were to attain 61 Knesset seats without coalition partners, actually implementing everything that appears in its platform would be impossible for budgetary reasons. Furthermore, as some commentators pointed out when the platform was first published, it is full of inner contradictions. Though I haven’t examined this claim deeply, since the platform deals more with the whats than with the hows, it is reasonable to assume that this criticism is not baseless.
I DID, however, discover several items in the platform that are based on a totally erroneous presentations of facts. For example, there is a paragraph that states:
“We shall strengthen the Knesset – compared to other parliaments in the world, the Knesset is weak in so far as real powers are concerned, and is further weakened due to the coalition discipline that determines, in fact, how members of the coalition vote in all readings of bills. The result is the running over of the Knesset by the government as well as a flood of ‘law declarations,’ only a minute percentage of which become laws, which turns the whole legislative process into a joke. In addition, the Knesset committees lack real power with regard to oversight of the executive branch, and the ability to change budgetary and other priorities.”
If we overlook the current political crisis in which the Knesset is almost completely dysfunctional, this statement is more than inaccurate.
Yet, despite its weaknesses, the Knesset is one of the better functioning parliaments in the democratic world today. Problems with party/coalition discipline feature in all parliamentary democracies, and the Knesset is one of the milder cases.
True, Israel is the parliamentary democracy in which there is the highest rate of private legislation – around 50% of the total – even though only around 5% of private members’ bills submitted actually get enacted. Unlike other parliaments, in Israel, PMBs do not just deal with minor issues in consensus. For example, much of our social and environmental legislation originated in PMBs, as well as several basic laws.
Why this is the situation is not because of the Knesset’s weakness or because legislation is a rewarding activity for MKs, but because of the incoherence of the governments, and the lack of serious government legislative activity in many spheres. The Economic Arrangements Law is an exception, but even here the Knesset is much more successful than many other parliaments that have Omni-budget laws like our Arrangements Law (for example, Canada and its Budget Implementation Act), in confronting the government and forcing it to take chapters out of the monstrous law.
As to the subject of oversight in general, the 20th Knesset established a special parliamentary oversight coordination unit to deal with the issue, but the government’s wary about cooperating. Netanyahu’s fourth government was especially obstructionist in this sphere, frequently turning oversight into a joke.
What Blue and White should do, if it wants to improve the situation, is simply to promise that if it forms the next government it – including the prime minister himself – will cooperate with the Knesset. We are simply talking of a change of attitude.
Incidentally, in previous decades the parties took election platforms much more seriously than they do today. In the 1980s I remember that before each election the Labor Party used to set up numerous committees to prepare a detailed platform on every single subject, and serious arguments used to take place on many of the issues.
Today, as Israeli politics has become much less ideological, and much more about personalities, the effectiveness of platforms is questionable. However, at least in the case of Blue and White, the platform is concrete evidence refuting the accusation that it has no ideas and no plans beyond “just not Bibi,” even though, as I pointed out last week “just not Bibi” does not just refer to the man, but to his way.