Politics is the art of the possible. But there are certain rules that have to be followed if one is to succeed in politics, and Israel's three largest parties are in the process of breaking three of the rules, to their own detriment and to the detriment of Israel's citizens.
The prime minister and chairman of the Likud is breaking a fundamental rule of coalition politics: when you have a stable coalition, stick with it. Unstable coalitions make effective governance impossible. After years of unstable coalitions, the elections of February 2003 finally gave Israel a stable coalition. Together with the Likud's 40 MKs, Shinui's 15 MKs, the National Union and the NRP, it was possible for the first time in many years to begin putting into place much needed reforms - putting our house in order, after years of what almost seemed like anarchy rather than proper government, punctuated by frequent early elections.
In effect, the record of the past year and a half of the Likud-led coalition, will, no doubt, appear in a very favorable light in Israel's political history. Fundamental and much needed economic reforms are being carried out, the raiding of the national treasury by imaginary and illegitimate institutions associated with the Orthodox political parties has ceased, the disorder that has characterized much of municipal government for years is coming to an end, and an effective campaign is being waged against Palestinian terror. And for the first time in Israel's history, it seems possible to put an end to the scandalous mass exemptions from military service. But a break-up of the coalition that was formed after the last elections and the formation of an unstable coalition will doubtless put an end to these reforms, and even endanger what has already been achieved.
Shinui, that "electoral miracle" of the last elections, is about to break a second rule of politics. Single-issue parties better stick to their knitting; Shinui's attempt to transform itself into a party with a national agenda and compete with Likud and Labor is bound to fail, while losing the core electorate that was at the root of their achievement in the last election.
The Labor party, the traditional rival to Likud on the Israeli political scene, is about to break a third rule. The opposition has a chance of returning to power only from the opposition. Being an appendage to a coalition led by its rival is a sure-fire recipe for perpetuating their present sorry state.
So why is all this happening - Sharon breaking up a stable coalition, Shinui abandoning its winning platform, and Labor pleading to join the Likud in the government? All are giving the same answer: disengagement - or in other words, uprooting the settlements in Gush Katif and the northern end of the Gaza Strip as well as in northern Samaria - is the most important item on Israel's agenda, and everything else pales in comparison.
"We are doing what is good for Israel, and not what is good for the party," announce politicians, not known for altruistic behavior. It is highly doubtful whether a government based on an unstable coalition will be capable of uprooting the settlements, which in any case is bound to be a most traumatic event for the people of Israel, for the IDF, and the police.
But if we were to assume that the new coalition will hold, and the uprooting of the settlements will be carried out, is it likely to advance the war against Palestinian terror, will it bring a settlement with the Palestinians any closer, will it really be good for Israel? Is the small chance that it will be successful worth throwing to the wind the achievements of the present government and the other reforms still in the works?
The most likely scenario after March 2005, the target date for uprooting of the settlements, is that the IDF will be even more deeply involved in operations in the Gaza Strip, especially after Ashkelon has been put within range of Qassam rockets launched from there. Disengagement from Gaza will have become a farce, except 7,000 settlers will have been pulled out of their homes, and we will be heading for early elections. It seems like a prescription for disaster.
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