Israeli Politics Is the Art of Avoiding Conflicts

Israeli politics is a special species of mutant. It is not the art of dealing with conflicts, but the art of avoiding them.

Conflict is at the basis of any novel, literary theory sometimes teaches. Without conflict between people, desires and ideas, a novel will not have a springboard to propel it toward challenge and resolution.

Conflict is also the lifeblood of politicians. The constant necessity to navigate between different needs pulling in opposite directions, and the need to prioritize and fund areas like education and health, welfare and security, with limited means, illustrates the centrality of conflict in politics. To this, of course, may be added conflict between nations and between differing population groups within the same nation.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is a master of indecision.
Emil Salman

From this point of view, politicians should be judged by their ability to deal with conflicts. The two recent leaders of Likud, Ariel Sharon and Benjamin Netanyahu, are opposite poles in this respect. Sharon pushed ahead like a bulldozer toward decisions that changed the geopolitical situation (for good or for bad ), beginning with the first Lebanon War and ending with the disengagement from Gaza. Netanyahu, in contrast, has not left an imprint in the form of dramatic decisions. His way of dealing with conflict is distinctive.

Netanyahu does not deal with conflicts. He puts off dealing with them again and again. He begs for an extension. There are many examples of this. The ostensible compromise on the matter of the illegal outpost of Migron that the government proposed, which would delay the evacuation by three years (and which was rejected by the High Court of Justice ); the scandalous petition to the High Court on the matter of the Ulpana neighborhood in the West Bank settlement of Beit El, which was also rejected; the continued postponement of a decision about Iran, with the concept "year of decision" with which we are inundated pushed ahead year after year; and of course, the diplomatic freeze.

Our former, current and future prime minister is thus an artist when it comes to ignoring conflicts. He invests his resourcefulness not in solutions but in a variety of escape routes that spare him from implementing solutions and making decisions. His endless postponements and frantic flip-flops between contrary positions are examples of this. A great deal of creativity has also been invested in avoiding and even fleeing from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Arab Spring, Iran and the Holocaust have all been invoked towards this end.

But there is one conflict Netanyahu has had trouble avoiding. That is the High Court ruling against the constitutionality of the Tal Law, which grants extensive draft deferments to yeshiva students, and which has put the coalition into a tailspin. Tensions among the ultra-Orthodox parties and Yisrael Beiteinu have intensified and an urgent decision is needed, before August, when the law is due to expire. But Netanyahu is not one to throw up his hands and give in to the need to decide. Netanyahu will not agree to deadlines, not even those issued by the High Court. He will not betray the sacred principle of non-decision.

Ever resourceful, he pulled out the doomsday weapon: elections. The legal significance of elections was that the Tal Law would be extended and the issue of the draft of the ultra-Orthodox and the question of equal sharing of society's burdens would be put off until the next term.

The leader of the new party Yesh Atid, Yair Lapid, was soon bitten by the Israeli postponement bug as well; he suddenly proposed putting off drafting of the ultra-Orthodox for five years.

The late-night stinking maneuver of Likud and Kadima shuffled the deck at the last moment and can be considered a new record for Netanyahu in the art of flip-flopping. With unprecedented cynicism, Netanyahu and Kadima chairman Shaul Mofaz made a fool of the legislature and transformed it, without its knowledge, into a puppet theater. The broad unity government was presented as a recipe for action, but its monstrous size and internal dissent on almost every issue will turn it into a government of national paralysis. That is exactly what attracts Netanyahu. The means changed, but the original end has been achieved. Why run toward early elections when you can achieve paralysis in some other way?

Israeli politics is a special species of mutant. It is not the art of dealing with conflicts, but the art of avoiding them. Netanyahu has brought this art to a new level of sophistication. That is why he is so popular; that is why he has no competitors. What Netanyahu is proposing is in fact eternal paralysis and that is apparently what we want.

Read this article in Hebrew