There Is No Good Option Outside the Voting Booth

Uzi Baram
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Benny Gantz, right, reaches out to shake hands with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the memorial for former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in Jerusalem, November 10, 2019.
Benny Gantz reaches out to shake hands with Benjamin Netanyahu at the memorial for former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in Jerusalem, November 10, 2019.Credit: Heidi Levine,AP
Uzi Baram

A minority government is not a realistic option. Some commentators adore the idea, which depends entirely on Avigdor Lieberman’s position. But given his views on Arabs, optimism is not in order. A unity government is a worn-out concept which everybody exploits in a different way.

The optimal unity government would be one between Kahol Lavan and Likud. The two parties would agree on a rotation and on basic guidelines, and would together reach out to other parties to join the coalition. But when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu calls for unity, he means a unity government in which Kahol Lavan is forced to share power with all the elements inside his 55-seat bloc. It would be a Bibi-ist dictatorship. The man who lost the election hopes to win in building a government.

Benny Gantz, unlikely to achieve a breakthrough, is about to return the mandate to form a coalition, to Israel’s president. Elections are around the corner, unless worse options arise. One such option would be Gantz, eager to avoid another round of voting, would blink and agree to set up a government with Likud and all its allies. That would tarnish his success and that of his colleagues in establishing a party that is distinct from Likud. The argument over rotation – whether Netanyahu gets to serve first with an indictment hanging over him – has to do with ethics and integrity and is also a millstone around Kahol Lavan’s neck. Agreeing to rotation and to a broad government would be a mistake that would obliterate Kahol Lavan as a possible alternative to Likud.

Another possibility is that Lieberman joins a right-wing coalition that concedes to him on matters of religious legislation, and claims he prevented a gratuitous third election. He could urge Gantz to join a government like that. Shades of Tzipi Livni: a highly esteemed woman who couldn’t manage to build a government and left the arena to Netanyahu. That precedent is enough to warn the leaders of Kahol Lavan that if they don’t join the government, they will evaporate at the polls.

On the other hand, don’t forget what happened to Shaul Mofaz and Ehud Barak, who each joined a Netanyahu government and were left bereft of any real electoral option. Kahol Lavan arm in arm with the Zionist left wing would be a basis for change, but the change can only come through new elections that diminish the power of the right. Kahol Lavan and the other parties will emerge stronger and the Arabs will digest that they’re just a step away from partnership in government, by merit and not by compassion. All these values could find expression in elections.

It’s true that another election would weaken the Leiberman option. He is not an integral part of the political center and left on issues related to the judicial system and the Arab question. But he could change his positions.

The appeal to the public to support an alternative should be clear. What’s needed is a functional, decent government that runs the country while preserving the civil and judicial system. That is necessary in order to protect Israeli democracy, which is under attack by Netanyahu’s envoys – ministers who never did understand loyalty to oneself and to one’s conscience rather than to the leader.

The social networks brim with lies, smears and political gambits, most in keeping with the “school” of the outgoing prime minister, who perfected incitement and turned it into a repulsive show of victimhood by the person in power. Replacing governments is part and parcel of Israel; that is the way forward, the way to the values and future of the country of all of us.