A month ago, when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu opted for early elections, many prophesied his failure. They said that every time a prime minister moves up an election, he loses. On top of that comes the Zionist Camp alliance between Hatnuah’s Tzipi Livni and Labor’s Isaac Herzog, who overnight provided a serious alternative to Benjamin Netanyahu as prime minister.
But then things started turning Netanyahu’s way. The police unveiled their corruption investigation into Yisrael Beiteinu, which will push some of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s voters over to Likud.
After that came the resignation of Shas’ Eli Yishai to form a new party and the publication of the tapes in which Rabbi Ovadia Yosef referred to his dear friend Aryeh Deri as a “thief,” prompting the Shas chairman to resign. It’s clear Shas will pay the price at the polls and the biggest winner will be Likud.
If that’s not enough, external economic forces are playing into the ruling party’s hands. The U.S. economy is showing significant growth, and the Israeli economy, which depends on exports, is going along for the ride.
The dollar too is cooperating — it has strengthened against the shekel, improving the lot of exporters and the unemployed. Even the price of oil is doing its bit. It has fallen dramatically after years of increases, lowering the price of gasoline, electricity and water. This is good for employment and the cost of living; it’s felt by every consumer. It’s also good for the ruling party.
Regarding the cost of living, all the parties have promised great things; they know that this is a key issue. Netanyahu has promised to cancel value-added tax on basic food products, former Finance Minister Yair Lapid says he’ll lower customs duties and reform the import regime, former Communications Minister Moshe Kahlon says he’ll increase competition and fight monopolies, and economist Manuel Trajtenberg, the Zionist Camp’s new star, says he’ll tackle the high cost of living and housing prices.
But do any one of them have a chance to come through on their promises?
Opinion polls show that the next Knesset and government will be even more divided than the previous one. The Knesset will have four mid-sized parties with 10 to 15 seats each — Lapid’s Yesh Atid, Naftali Bennett’s Habayit Hayehudi, Kahlon’s Kulanu and Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu — and two slightly larger entities: Likud and the Zionist Camp. And don’t forget that three ultra-Orthodox parties and two Arab slates are expected to be in the running.
In other words, to form a government, whether right-wing or left-wing, the prime minister will have to bring in five or six parties who disagree on more things than they agree on.
Each of those parties has its own agenda, interests and promises. Each will neutralize the others, so none will be able to implement any of its main platforms — not on the diplomatic front and not on the cost of living. After all, it’s impossible to push anything through when five or six forces are pulling in different directions.
For example, in the 2015 budget, Lapid planned three modest reforms — regarding sheep’s milk, egg quotas and fish. These plans would have lowered prices, but Agriculture Minister Yair Shamir, a member of Yisrael Beiteinu, blocked them because his party contains activists from kibbutzim, moshavim and agricultural production boards and organizations, like the Cattle Breeders Association. They oppose reforms.
In other words, Netanyahu, Lapid, Kahlon and the Zionist Camp’s Manuel Trajtenberg can talk about reforms until the cows come home, but that’s just talk. Our current system of government encourages a multiplicity of mid-sized parties and prevents the creation of two main powers; it thus does not allow for revolutionary changes.
This is bad news for those who have entered to politics to do things. It’s also bad news for Israelis eagerly awaiting a leader who will shake things up, both regarding negotiations with the Palestinians and the high cost of living.
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