By Rabbi Dow Marmur.
The fact that both Prime Minister Netanyahu and Leader of the Opposition Herzog say that they won’t sit in the same government doesn’t mean that it won’t happen. While Netanyahu’s team is negotiating with Likud’s “natural partners” – in addition to the two Orthodox parties, Bennett’s Habayit Hayehudi and Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu – there’re rumours of behind the scenes meetings between Likud representatives and emissaries form Herzog’s and Livni’s Zionist Union.
Having in mind the interest of the country as a whole, President Rivlin has openly advocated such a deal. In Tuesday’s Ha’aretz, Professor Shlomo Avineri, a distinguished political scientist who had also been the Director General of Israel’s foreign ministry, makes a strong case for the formation of a unity government: it would keep out both Bennett and Lieberman and thus probably save the country from having its democracy severely compromised and its standing in the world further tarnished.
One of Bennett’s ominous demands is to curtail the work of the Supreme Court, the most potent guarantor of Israel’s democracy. Lieberman has it also in for the Arabs, not only the Palestinians in the West Bank but also the Arab citizens of Israel. As if he hadn’t caused enough embarrassment to Israel as foreign minister in the outgoing government, he wants to retain that position or, better still, be made minister of defense. Bennett also wants either of these portfolios, preferably the latter.
Though Likud and the Zionist Union were campaigning as fierce opponents, the two leaders may get on better with each other than Netanyahu gets on with Bennett and Lieberman. In fact, Likud did so much better than expected at the polls, not because it got votes from the Zionist Union but from the other right-wing parties.
Benefits of a unity government include a range of social reforms. The leader of the new party Kulanu, Moshe Kahlon, would become finance minister also in the unity government. The three parties would have a majority in the Knesset even without including the Orthodox. Kahlon may actually make life easier for ordinary citizens, something that the previous finance minister, Yair Lapid of Yesh Atid, promised but didn’t deliver. The ominously growing gap between rich and poor is bad news for Israel.
The unity government is likely to include the Orthodox parties to give it a solid majority, as in the right-wing coalition. Though the Orthodox are a nuisance and their candidate for minister of the interior a former convicted embezzler of funds from that ministry, on the whole they’re easier to deal with than Bennett and Lieberman, and they tend to favour social reforms that are bound to benefit their many poor voters.
No less of a benefit of a unity government would be the way the international community perceives Israel. At the moment Netanyahu doesn’t do well in the opinion of world leaders, perhaps with the exception of Canada, and Lieberman as foreign minister is persona non grata in most countries, perhaps with the exception of Moldavia. Herzog as deputy prime minister and foreign minister would be able to regain international confidence by returning to the negotiating table with the Palestinians. Livni as minister of justice would save the Supreme Court from the onslaught from the political right.
Many would say that the above speculations are pie in the sky. However, if enough responsible Israeli leaders are in favour, it may become a reality.