Common sense suggests that with Benjamin Netanyahu’s clear victory over the Zionist Union, and the fact that the Likud and its “natural” partners together command 67 Knesset seats, there is no earthly reason to consider the establishment of a national unity government.
Cynics say that all the current talk in the media about a national unity government being an option at the present juncture is nothing but a spin to try and reduce the price that the various potential coalition partners are demanding from Netanyahu.
There are others who believe that deep down in his heart Netanyahu doesn’t really belong to the extreme Right, and understands the course proposed by the extreme Right, in terms of the establishment of a Palestinian state, Israel’s relations with the international community, and Israel’s internal affairs. They maintain that despite everything Netanyahu said about the Zionist Union, and the mocking intonation he used in referring to its leaders in the course of the election campaign, he would really rather sit with “Buji and Tzipi” (Herzog and Livni) in his fourth government, than with Naftali Bennett’s Bayit Yehudi and the enigmatic and erratic Evet (Avigdor Liberman).
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As one of those who kept hoping in the past that at the end of the day Netanyahu would prove to be a creative pragmatist, and no longer believes this to be a realistic hope, I reject the latter hypothesis out of hand. I have come to believe that Netanyahu views all his options – real and imaginary – exclusively through the prism of what will help him survive politically.
As to the idea of a national unity government, the notion would have made sense if the exit polls on March 17 had proven accurate, and neither the Zionist Union nor the Likud would have been in a position to form a stable government without the other.
Though both the exit polls and the real results showed the two together receiving 54 Knesset seats, the difference between a 27:27 result and a 30:24 result made all the difference in the world, despite the fact that even if the 27:27 forecast had materialized, it would have taken a superhuman effort to wash away the bad blood flowing between the two camps, to bridge the real ideological differences that exist between the two on most issues, and to construct the minimal level of personal trust necessary to maintain a partnership with any chance of surviving for four years.
But the Zionist Union was determined to do everything in the world to replace Bibi, who it considers to have failed in almost every possible sphere, while Netanyahu convinced himself and his natural electorate that a government headed by “Buji and Tzipi” would not face up to the security challenges confronting Israel, and deliberately avoided talking about the rest. Both sides exaggerated.
But besides the sediment left over from the election campaign, the sad fact that nothing Netanyahu says can be taken at face value, and that it is anyone’s guess what of all that he says should be believed and what should not, doesn’t help, though US President Barack Obama is probably right when he believes the Benjamin Netanyahu who speaks in Hebrew to his potential voters, just as we are inclined to believe the Mahmoud Abbas who speaks in Arabic to his Palestinian audiences.
But we are not in a 27:27 situation, and I perfectly agree with MK Yariv Levin of the Likud, who constantly states that even though the political Right has been in power for much of the past 38 years, it has never ruled in the full sense of the word, and has done very little to try to break the alleged left-wing hold in the justice system, the media, the arts and academia, especially when it comes to the issue of Israel’s Jewish and democratic balance.
Though I honestly fear the consequences of Levin’s dreams coming true, I think that it is important for Israel’s future, given the clear results of the election and the public mood, that Israel should experience a “pure” Right/religious government, in which Moshe Kahlon marks the government’s most extreme Left, without any ifs and buts, and without the customary secular/Center/Left fig leaves and shock absorbers.
The most “optimistic” outcome – even if we are left with an Israel that causes its left-wingers and liberals revulsion and alienation – would be if the experience were to prove that the world at large is hypocritical, and/ or impotent when it tries to act on the basis of the more or less enlightened principles it claims to believe in, and that Israel can literally get away with anything it pleases, with impunity.
A pessimistic outcome would leave Israel in a “scorched earth” situation – isolated, boycotted, and fighting real and imaginary enemies on all fronts. I even fear that Israel might face serious problems in the OECD, which invited us to join its ranks in May 2010, after teams representing the government and the Knesset (I was a member of the latter) prepared a set of documents, which went to great lengths to demonstrate that Israel measures up to the standards and democratic principles that the OECD espouses. The OECD negotiating team didn’t give us an easy time. I am no longer sure that what these documents said will still be valid in a few years’ time, though I hope I shall be proven wrong.
I do not know whether Netanyahu will manage to form his new government before his first 28 days are out, or whether he will require the full 42 days that the law provides for the purpose. There are certainly many spins in the air, and I presume that Netanyahu will not give his coalition partners everything they ask for, despite their threats of being willing to go to the opposition benches if he refuses.
By the look of things, even Kahlon and Kulanu, without whose support Netanyahu cannot form a narrow government, will not get all the tools he has demanded for the purpose of dealing effectively with the cost-of-living and housing problems.
One gets the feeling that even though Netanyahu will keep his word about placing the Ministry of Finance in Kahlon’s hands, he is no more committed to Kahlon’s success than he was to Yair Lapid’s, not least of all because Kahlon, as a former Likudnik, might under suitable conditions decide to “return home” and challenge Netanyahu’s leadership from within the Likud.
However, despite everything Kahlon is unlikely to bolt, and even though it is believed that ideologically he would prefer a government with the Zionist Union inside to the government that Netanyahu will apparently present to the Knesset before long, he knows that in a national unity government he would have less power and influence than in a narrow one.
But as I have written in the past – it isn’t over until it is over, and before long we shall have a new government, which will most probably be a narrow one.
One immediate victim of a narrow government will unfortunately be the final report prepared by Prof. Ruth Gavison on a balanced constitutional basis for the Jewish and democratic visions of the State of Israel, which she submitted to Minister of Justice Tzipi Livni several days before Livni was fired from the government by Netanyahu in the beginning of last December, and which Gavison has since published on her website.
A narrow government will be committed to the controversial “Israel – the State of the Jewish Nation Law,” and it is doubtful whether Gavison’s report will even be consulted.
The writer is a retired Knesset employee.