Broad coalition in Israel shows Netanyahu's centrist colors
By bringing the centrist Kadima party into his coalition, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu can address some of the more fundamental problems Israel faces – including the moribund peace process with Palestinians – without a veto threat from the far right parties.
(Page 2 of 2)
The first goal is replacing the Tal Law, the controversial legal provision that has allowed the ultra-Orthodox to refrain from serving in the military – an exemption that riles the majority who serve in the conscript army. The Supreme Court forced the issue with a decision to invalidate the law and require the government to replace it by Aug. 1, which is what threatened to break apart the coalition and bring about early elections in the first place. Now the religious parties that refused to budge on the point have a far weaker hand to play.Skip to next paragraph
Gallery Monitor Political Cartoons
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
The second, and perhaps least exciting issue, is passing a new budget reflecting the state’s priorities. Here, politicians can best address (or try to quell) the expected return this summer of protests on social inequality.
The third goal is changing the electoral structure altogether. Quirks in Israel’s electoral system cause it to suffer from immense instability, which has prevented every government in over two decades from completing a full, four-year term.
By international standards, Israel has a low threshold of votes required for parties to enter the Knesset. Raising the threshold would mean fewer small parties, and as a result, fewer parties that can hold a fragile coalition hostage with their demands. Even if all the other goals fail, succeeding with this one will equip Israel to better deal with political challenges in the future. It must be a priority.
And finally, the peace process is back on the agenda. To hear Netanyahu include peace negotiations as one of his top four priorities is a welcome change, and the Palestinians should take note. Fresh off their own cabinet reshuffle, the Palestinian Authority could take advantage of a rare opportunity to agree on and pass a deal without the usual domestic pressure on the Israeli side.
Netanyahu could also, without the baggage of the religious parties, accede to the Palestinian pre-condition that he freeze settlement activity, but he would have to quell dissent within his own party to do so – as well as roll back his own strong statements favoring settlements.
Of course, overlooking the biggest international challenge Israel faces would be foolish. When early elections were anticipated, the possibility of a strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities was vastly diminished – military action would be difficult during the political limbo. But the lack of an election keeps the threat alive, which in turn both bolsters chances that upcoming nuclear negotiations between Iran and the West will bear fruit, and allows Israel to act if it feels the need to.
Through the political sandstorm, it is possible that Netanyahu has shown his true colors to be pragmatic, centrist ones. Unlike Mofaz, Netanyahu had nothing to worry about in early elections. The only reason to offer the foundering left (and Kadima, in particular) a lifeline would be because he believes in fixing Israel’s seemingly intractable problems, and found a rare opportunity to do so.
Having freed himself from the shackles of rigidly right-wing and religious parties, Netanyahu may yet prove more flexible than expected.