Thursday, December 31, 2009
Favoring a national unity government
December 31, 2009
Just under a year ago after the elections and again last month, I called for a government of national unity. I was apprehensive that our situation was becoming ominously reminiscent to the period preceding the Six Day War. Polls after the elections indicated that the vast majority of Israelis favored such a move. However, motivated by egomania and overriding personal political ambition, Kadima leader Tzipi Livni bitterly opposed the proposal and, in what proved to be her greatest political failure, prevented her party from joining the government.Binyamin Netanyahu was thus obliged to form a narrow government and come to terms with the excessive demands of the small, one-dimensional parties. But contrary to Livni's predictions, far from collapsing after only a few months, Netanyahu succeeded in achieving a rare sense of unity among Israelis.
This week, the prime minister renewed his call for a unity government. In accusing him of cynicism and flatly rejecting the offer on the grounds that the country is not now facing any war, Livni has demonstrated that she is clearly out of touch with reality and lacks the qualities required of a national leader.
THE REALITY is that today we face a perilous era:
We are confronted with an American administration which is less supportive of Israel than any of its predecessors and will probably soon impose additional unacceptable demands.
We face a moment of decision in relation to the Iranian nuclear threat.
We are suffering from greater hostility on the global level than at any time since the state was created. The Europeans (encouraged by the policy shift of the Obama administration) are poised to exert their influence in favor of an imposed settlement which could pose a long-term existential threat to us.
Our enemies are intensifying their global campaign by exploiting the Goldstone report to brand us as war criminals and further our delegitimization.
In such a toxic environment, the need for national unity to fend off the coming onslaught is very real.
It is the policies of the US administration which will largely determine the reality of the threats that we will confront in the international arena. Given that the American people and Congress continue to support us, there is no doubt that the Obama administration would heed a united Israeli standpoint expressed within the framework of a national unity government.
Hence, despite Livni's staged outrage at Netanyahu's proposal, today most Israelis would wish to see Kadima act in the national interest and join a unity government. Besides, under Livni, Kadima has proved to be a weak, inept opposition. Shaul Mofaz, the second-most senior Kadima leader, makes no effort to disguise his contempt for Livni, proclaiming that her victory in the Kadima primaries was the result of "improper actions" which "bordered on the criminal" and that "Kadima is falling apart" because of her "lack of leadership, arrogance and inability to make decisions." It is not surprising therefore, that many within her own party predict that her days are numbered.
KADIMA WAS created by Ariel Sharon solely to enable him to implement an agenda opposed by his party, Likud. Most of Kadima's founding members were thus either defectors from Likud, or joining to further their own political or personal interests. From the outset, Kadima comprised a mishmash of malleable individuals who could broadly be defined, at best, as pragmatic, or in many cases as outright opportunists. Today, since Netanyahu's Bar-Ilan speech, they are unable to even theoretically posit a policy which differs from that of Likud. That largely contributed to their failure as an opposition party.
Had Livni not vetoed Kadima joining the government after the elections, her party would have shared in the division of the major cabinet portfolios. Netanyahu's latest initiative inviting Kadima MKs to suspend their personal ambitions and follow a similar path to that of Menachem Begin, who in 1967 joined the cabinet without a ministerial role, was certain to be rejected. However, the fact that Kadima now complains that it cannot join the coalition because its members are not being offered the same deal as last year, clearly reinforces the fact that the obstacle to joining the government is not based on policy but on ministerial portfolios.
Netanyahu has made it clear that if his offer is rejected, he will endeavor to entice individual members of Kadima to defect in order to broaden his government. Most of us consider such tactics obnoxious. But Netanyahu can at least claim that the inducements he offers for Kadima members to join his government are for a cause supported by the vast majority of the nation. When Yitzhak Rabin acted along similar lines at the time of the Oslo Accords and enticed three Tsomet Knesset members to defect, the country was genuinely divided, and his act effectively changed the course of history rather than reinforcing the will of the majority.
Despite the tenuous moral and antidemocratic motives behind that arrangement, Rabin's efforts were overwhelmingly endorsed by the media which shared his agenda. Yet ironically, Netanyahu is now being accused of cynicism and antidemocratic behavior. This is all the more preposterous given that Kadima was created from the ruins of both Likud and Labor, whose members were seduced to join primarily for opportunistic motives.
THERE ARE additional considerations which give urgency to Kadima joining the government beyond the need for unity to face external threats. A broad government which is not subject to the veto of small, one-dimensional parties will enable the implementation of long-overdue social and economic reforms.
With the demographic explosion in the haredi world, we face a catastrophe unless we act now to review the haredi educational system. As of now, haredi youngsters are denied the ability to sustain a durable livelihood, which guarantees that they will remain wards of the state, relying on social welfare for their entire lives. There is a desperate need for reviewing the structure of the draft and national service; We must enable those who are not halachicly Jewish to institutionalize their marital bonds without the charade of going to Cyprus. There must be an end to the ongoing scandal of conversions controlled by haredi-dominated rabbinical courts and the proliferation of anti-Zionist rabbis receiving state rabbinical appointments. There is an urgency for electoral reform which continues to be sidelined.
In my column last month, I concluded by asking: "Can Kadima led by Livni overcome petty political considerations and act in the best interests of the state?" For reasons set forth above, we should hope that with or without Livni, Kadima or most of its Knesset members will ultimately join the government. Recent events indicate that Livni's personal ambitions no longer dominate the party and that Kadima MKs have become more attuned to the wishes of the public.
If Netanyahu ultimately succeeds in persuading large numbers of Kadima members to join his government, he could also deal with the multiple problems facing our society which are today on the back burner because of the veto power of small parties selfishly promoting their narrow interests. He could also initiate a renaissance and reinforce all the positive Jewish and Zionist forces that have been corrupted over time by a flawed electoral system which served as an incubator for corrupt politicians.