After 50 Years of Occupation, Israeli Politics Have Reached a Dead End

The right has the authority but doesn't have a policy, while the left has a policy but doesn't have the people.

Netanyahu at the scene of the shooting attack in Tel Aviv, June 9, 2016.
Netanyahu's FB page

The political system is caught in a paradox: To get Zionist Union into the coalition, Habayit Hayehudi will have to go, but if Habayit Hayehudi quit the coalition before Zionist Union comes in – the government falls and one can’t really expect Zionist Union to resist the temptation to let it fall.

So how to add Zionist Union to the coalition when you have to first get rid of Habayit Hayehudi, without first getting rid of Habayit Hayehudi? 

Zionist Union’s dilemma is real: On the one hand, if a historic window of opportunity for a diplomatic accord is truly opening due to a new geopolitical constellation and the prime minister’s personal and political difficulties, it’s unthinkable that the left would be the one to slam it shut. On the other hand, it means joining forces with Benjamin Netanyahu, the man whose name is a synonym for diplomatic intransigence and personal and public disloyalty.

You’d have to be a hopeless optimist to really believe that there is a scenario in which Netanyahu is the person who ends the occupation. 

Zionist Union must therefore take a political leap of faith here, when there is seemingly no good reason to do so. Reason says that if there’s a chance of taking down Netanyahu, then that’s what needs to be done. 

Even before the terror attack in Tel Aviv, which served as a reminder of the right’s most fervently-denied truth – that it has no answer for Israel’s security problems, and before the latest corruption allegations against Netanyahu, and before the crisis with Shas, there were plenty of good reasons to hold early elections.

Distrust now permeates the entire political system, crossing all party lines: Ministers don’t trust the prime minister, MKs don’t trust their parties, the public doesn’t trust its representatives, and above all – the military doesn’t trust the government. But there’s no guarantee whatsoever that another election season will produce a new result that’s significantly different from what came out of the last election, or those that preceded it, because it’s very possible that the political system has really reached a dead end.  

What’s happening to the right now is important, because it’s being forced to confront its lack of tenability: It’s not possible to stay in power for the long-term without a policy, or at least the illusion of a policy. But the opposition also has to be honest with itself: Is it ready for new elections? Is the leftist camp really ready to take back the reins of the country? This camp seems clearly unable to coalesce around a leader. The left has a tendency to belittle the importance of leadership – as if good ideas or just some diligent field work were sufficient to win the public’s trust.

But ideas have to be connected to people, and it’s been a long time since the leftist camp has had anyone at its head whose name the people (or even just the members of its political party) could shout out loud. 

Maybe the sense that there’s no real opposition comes from a genuine (despite all the yelling) near-unity of opinion, or more accurately, an across-the-board feeling of hopelessness in the face of the real dilemma Israel must cope with: the Palestinian problem. Having slid down the slope of the occupation for close to 50 years now, it just doesn’t know how to solve the problem. Not when it says “two states for two peoples” and certainly not when it says “one state.”

So the political paradox may be a consequence of a national psychological strategy aimed at evading the responsibility that comes with authority: The right has a leader and an electorate but no viable policy, and the left has a policy, at least on paper, but it lacks the people.

When this is the situation, Netanyahu suddenly goes from being a problem to being a part of the solution: Thanks to him the right enjoys authority devoid of responsibility, while the left has responsibility devoid of authority. Netanyahu is just the face and embodiment of our futility.