PM's Call for 'Unity' Can't Mask His Government's Dysfunction

Before he invites new parties to his coalition, Netanyahu should examine whether the body he leads can even be called a government.

Yossi Verter
Yossi Verter
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a statement to the media in Jerusalem, November 18, 2014.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a statement to the media in Jerusalem, November 18, 2014. Credit: Reuters
Yossi Verter
Yossi Verter

Tuesday night, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took a step that’s downright unusual in Israeli politics: He called on all the leaders of the opposition parties by name – except the Arab ones – and invited them to join a national unity government. This, he proclaimed, is the need of the hour. As if all the Arab armies were massing on our borders at this moment to destroy us.

Yes, it’s always the same dream, always the same maneuver, always the same moldy magic formula known as “unity” that’s put forth as a recipe for solving domestic political woes. But before the prime minister invites new guests to board his ship, perhaps he would do better to consider whether the conflict-ridden, dysfunctional collection of people he currently heads even deserves to be called a government.

And before he invites Isaac Herzog, Shaul Mofaz, Yaakov Litzman, Aryeh Deri and Zahava Gal-On to join, perhaps he should try to renew his original invitation from 20 months ago to Yair Lapid, Tzipi Livni, Naftali Bennett and Avigdor Lieberman – all of whom are in the government, but are acting as if they had already left it.

And before he implicitly holds the leaders of the opposition indirectly responsible for “the situation,” by dint of their refusal to accede to his invitation, he should have the decency to demand responsibility of himself for the severe deterioration in security in the heart of Israel’s capital, which will soon be filled not only with concrete barriers at light rail stations, but also with checkpoints between the city’s eastern and western halves.

Netanyahu gave a press conference in Jerusalem Tuesday night as the flames were licking the hem of his “Mr. Security” robe. I’m waiting for some cynic to come out with an updated version of his Likud party’s deadly slogan in the 1996 election – “There is no peace, there is no security, there is no reason to vote for Peres,” but with the current incumbent’s name replacing that of then-Prime Minister Shimon Peres. And if we’re already talking about slogans, how about the legendary “Peres will divide Jerusalem,” apropos of those checkpoints?

Tuesday’s attack on a synagogue in Jerusalem’s Har Nof neighborhood pushed the ongoing, childish ego wars among the heads of the coalition parties off the public agenda and put those battles – over budgetary issues and the zero-VAT law – in the wretched, ludicrous light they deserve. Even Netanyahu’s humiliation over the preliminary approval of a bill targeting his biggest supporter, the daily paper Israel Hayom, was somehow reduced to more reasonable proportions.

Ever since July, Jerusalem has become a real battlefield – first in the eastern part, and now in the west. There is no peace, there is no security. And how are the leaders of our government responding? With unbridled assaults on the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, that depict him as a mega-terrorist. As if East Jerusalem were under his control.

It’s true that Abbas is sometimes upsetting and that some of his statements are outrageous; it’s also true that he connects to the narrative of his own people rather than that of the Herut movement in which Netanyahu grew up. But hey, Jerusalem is our united capital for all eternity, no? Even Lapid once said that Jerusalem is an “idea” that can’t be divided, even for the sake of peace. So what do ministers Lapid, Yuval Steinitz, Moshe Ya’alon and Netanyahu want from Abbas?

Even Shin Bet security service chief Yoram Cohen – who wears the knitted skullcap commonly associated with the religious right and who, due to the environment he grew up in, some feared would ignite fires rather than putting them out – gave his unvarnished professional opinion to the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Tuesday: Abbas isn’t inciting to terror, doesn’t support terror and doesn’t encourage terror. Period.

So here’s the dilemma: Who should we believe, Cohen or Steinitz?

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