The liability of political limbo in Israel
It threatens the very existence of the state.
The problem Israel faces in the aftermath of February's national elections is neither right wing nor left wing. It's getting trapped in a political limbo.Skip to next paragraph
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Newly designated Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's effort to form a functional government may be the beginning of the end of Israeli politics, and with it, a peace process that has never been more essential for both Israel and the Palestinians. Israel's electoral system is famous for its instability. Governments rise, governments fall; it's the cyclical nature of parliamentary politics, especially in an ethnic democracy as rancorous as Israel.
Last month's elections, however, reveal systemic failure brought on by decades of avoiding matters as critical as the national identity of the state, long-term policy toward occupation and settlements, and overall adherence to the status quo.
The absence of bold, pragmatic political leadership since 1948, including the necessary confrontation of religious and political extremists after 1967, now threatens the very existence of Israel as a Jewish state that is also moral and democratic.
To form the kind of center-right government Mr. Netanyahu says he would like to administer, he needs the Kadima party as a moderating force. For that to happen, he would have to accept the party's (slightly) more dovish platform without offending his far-right supporters. It's a tough sell, and even if he succeeded in cobbling together such a coalition, Kadima would probably look for the first opportunity to bring it down and call for new elections.
Netanyahu could form a government without Kadima, relying on the slim majority in the Knesset who already support him. The problem is, that would be a government of only right-wingers, an ideological imbalance that would pull Netanyahu – a hard-line hawk who, given the opportunity, says he would get rid of Hamas – further to the right than he might like.
How did Israel's right, particularly Avigdor Lieberman's Yisrael Beytenu party (now the country's third-largest political party, ahead of once-mighty Labor) get so powerful? In the same way that Arab extremists (both political and militant) gained power in the past: Largely moderate and secular (albeit autocratic) regimes empowered them. Voting for extremists helped the people vent their anger. It also let national leaders avoid having to address their countries' real problems.