It happens after every election campaign. First they give the person tasked with forming the government a long rope. When he runs into trouble, as predicted, the journalists, pundits and politicians throw out the tired old phrases like “national responsibility,” “joint bearing of the burden” and “damage control.” Little by little they convince themselves they’ve helped save the country out of deep patriotism.
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It’s reasonable to assume that most of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s voters and everyone who voted for Naftali Bennett’s Habayit Hayehudi and Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu want a Jewish state much more than a democratic one. It’s reasonable to assume they seek some form of annexation of the West Bank and undermining of the Supreme Court. The voters for the religious parties are of a similar mind, so there’s no real conflict.
On the other side is a bloc that is split when it comes to issues of society and economy. But this camp believes in real democracy in a Jewish state in which the Arab minority has equal rights. It opposes the annexation of the West Bank, wants an agreement with the Palestinians and the Arab countries, and aims to protect the justice system and the standing of the Supreme Court.
Plenty of respectable pundits say the differences between the blocs are modest, so they can reach a suitable compromise. But I have no doubt that the right and the religious parties will maintain their hegemony among the people as long as the parties don’t have to pay a political and diplomatic price for the people’s vote.
So far the price they’ve paid has been minimal. They say European opposition to the government’s positions is anti-Semitism, while the evils of the occupation and the settlement enterprise they regard as a given. This does not weigh on their consciences.
Israel needs a coalition of right-wing and ultra-Orthodox parties that will act according to their beliefs. This is the only way the truth will slap these parties in the face, though geopolitical events could disprove predictions of a decline in Israel’s standing, and the right wing would feel it has succeeded.
In any case, the camp that is against this government must forge a clear opposition with diplomatic, political, economic and civic alternatives. True, it won’t be easy to remain in the opposition and be cut off from policy-making, but this will be the right interpretation of the election’s outcome.
The pundits will argue that this is an egocentric approach that does not favor the good of the country and prefers party interests over national ones. But there is no more important national interest than exposing the illusion of the right-wing worldview and the dead end to which it leads. After all, if the government wants to make the right decisions on key matters, it will always have the support of the opposition.
But let this be an opposition that seeks not only to bring down the government but to change public opinion, especially among religiously traditional people and immigrants from the former Soviet Union.
I’ve never been a great fan of unity governments. The end product is depressing and deceptive. Unity governments can indeed make more complex decisions than a right-wing government can, but these governments will not be different in principle. And the establishment of such a government will mean Israel has not formed the new kind of government it needs so much.
Former Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, whom Netanyahu so often mocked, gave him a kind of insurance policy in world public opinion. This insurance must be denied him.
Netanyahu conducted a campaign full of hatred and disdain for his opponents. He won, but he sowed the wind. Now he must look straight at the results of his actions and establish the government that he advocated for many months.