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May 8, 2015 10:02 am

To Survive, Netanyahu Must Broaden His New Government

avatar by Isi Leibler

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Netanyahu's new coalition government was signed in on Thursday. Photo: Isi Leibler.

Following weeks of unedifying horse trading, threats and extortions, compounded by personal malice, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has finally cobbled together an untenable coalition with only a single-seat majority — which any single Knesset member in the coalition could bring down. To survive, it must be broadened.

Most Israelis are disappointed that a national unity government could not be formed at a time when we are faced with daunting political and diplomatic challenges, in particular further major tensions with the Obama administration.

Yet, there is still considerable speculation that, despite public protestations to the contrary, both Netanyahu and Isaac Herzog would prefer to create a unity government and that at a later stage, the coalition will be expanded to incorporate the Zionist Union or as a last resort, even Yesh Atid.

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Excoriating Netanyahu for capitulating to unreasonable demands from minority parties that run counter to the will of the people is fine for populist armchair critics. But the responsibility rests with our dysfunctional political system and those voters who supported the small parties. Were Herzog in Netanyahu’s shoes, he would have behaved in exactly the same manner.

To form a government, Netanyahu was forced to forfeit the best available candidates for ministerial positions and even appoint utterly unsuitable ministers. In addition, he was obliged to submit to demands of small one-dimensional parties — adopting policies that Likud and the vast majority of Israelis strongly oppose.

Ironically, despite restricting Netanyahu to a hairline majority, the calculated decision of Avigdor Lieberman to undermine Netanyahu and join the opposition will delight most Israelis. Lieberman was the antithesis of what Israel required for the role of foreign minister. Cynically claiming to be motivated by ideological principles was pathetic for Lieberman, who is notorious for his political zigzagging. Besides, aside from having a penchant for coarse statements that may appeal to his constituency but alienate the rest of world — such as his call for disloyal Arab Israelis to be “beheaded” and the public condemnation of his government during the Gaza war — Lieberman was probably Israel’s least successful foreign minister.

Naftali Bennett and Habayit Hayehudi were treated shabbily by Netanyahu, who capitulated to Shas at their expense. Nevertheless, had he agreed to Bennett’s demand to become foreign minister, this also would have been disastrous. Bennett is articulate and charismatic but he is repeatedly on record vowing that he would never contemplate a Palestinian state and favoring annexation of the territories, which would have provided Obama with all the ammunition required to orchestrate a massive global anti-Israel campaign.

That he initially spurned the offer of the Education Ministry was regrettable. Education should be the paramount concern of Habayit Hayehudi. Bennett has a vision of Israel and Jewish values beyond the religious arena and understands how to reintroduce Jewish values into the secular education stream without religious coercion. The courage he displayed in his previous political forays suggests that that he could be an outstanding education minister and achieve major reforms in the system.

The last-minute appointment of Ayelet Shaked to the Justice Ministry was Bennett’s payback for Habayit Hayehudi’s shabby treatment. Although she has no legal background, Shaked is extremely competent and, aside from creating tensions by seeking to reduce the excessive power of the High Court, she will hopefully curtail the control over the rabbinate sought by Shas.

There is considerable disgust with the negative moral implications of appointing Shas leader Aryeh Deri, a convicted felon, as a minister. Fortunately, public outrage and petitions precluded him from obtaining the Interior Ministry which he coveted and had controlled when he was indicted. But it still shames us that such a person could be appointed as religious services minister as well as economy minister.

In terms of actual policy, the principal rage against Netanyahu is in relation to issues of state and religion. The retraction of the decision to criminalize and jail haredim refusing to partake in the draft by 2017 was commendable, as this type of coercion was an obstacle to progress and, if implemented, would merely have transformed our jails into yeshivot and radicalized haredi opposition to the draft.

However, Netanyahu has capitulated to other haredi demands and effectively totally displaced the Zionist Habayit Hayehudi in the religious and rabbinical arena with the haredim. Setting aside the pros and cons of the massive increase in funding to haredi institutions, the abrogation of financial penalties to yeshivot not fulfilling quotas for the draft will only encourage indolence.

The decision that state-sponsored haredi educational institutions are no longer required to incorporate a core curriculum — a crucial element enabling graduates from yeshivot to obtain employment — is also highly retrograde.

Another disastrous move, which will intensify tensions with Diaspora Jews and further alienate all other than haredi Israelis, is the rescission of the legislation enabling Israelis to choose rabbis for marriage, divorce and conversion. This will deny moderate Orthodox rabbinical groups like Tzohar the ability to operate in these areas and prevent municipal chief rabbis from establishing their own conversion courts. These basic religious services will be exclusively controlled by the Chief Rabbinate, which has been hijacked by the most stringent haredi elements.

This centralization of control by haredim is unprecedented and imposes the most stringent interpretations in all fields of Jewish law on the whole nation. In the long term, despite an extraordinary revival of Jewish values especially in Israel, this will bring the rabbinate and religious life into disrepute.

There is also some concern about the economy. It is highly commendable that incoming Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon has plans to introduce reform to benefit the weaker sectors — especially in the housing arena. However, there is a huge difference between reforming the mobile phone industry — at which he was undeniably successful — and revolutionizing a national economy. At the moment, Israel enjoys one of the most stable and enviable economies in the world but this could change overnight with the implementation of populist policies. Netanyahu will need to work closely alongside him to ensure that overdue internal reforms do not play havoc with the overall strong economy.

With such a razor-thin majority, another major disadvantage of the government is that innovation will be severely limited and constructive policies can be vetoed not merely by the absence of the unanimous support of all the small parties but by any individual government Knesset member. As in the past, an absence of cabinet responsibility and Netanyahu’s inability to impose discipline should his ministers act as rulers of independent fiefdoms and maintain their practice of publicly criticizing their own government, will likely continue.

In the coming months we will face enormous pressures. Not merely from the Europeans but from the U.S. administration. Once Obama is no longer directing all his efforts towards consummating an agreement with Iran, effectively transforming it into a threshold nuclear power, he is likely to revert to Israel. All indicators suggest that he intends to implement his threat that if Israel fails to toe his line, the U.S. would no longer employ its veto at the United Nations.

His clearly stated policy is that Israel’s borders should be based on the (indefensible) 1949 armistice lines with mutual swaps (which could never be achieved with the intransigent Palestinians), division of Jerusalem, and an indefinite freeze of all settlement construction which, in this context, includes settlement blocs and Jewish east Jerusalem.

Needless to say, Israel will not be able to make such concessions and will need to display a united front in order to ensure that American public opinion and the U.S. Congress will inhibit negative Obama initiatives. Much will depend on the opposition. The Zionist Union has acted commendably since the election in relation to the Iranian issue. Hopefully, it will continue to avoid demagoguery and populism and endorse government policies affecting our national interest.

Indeed, most Israelis hope that even if it leads to the defection of a few of its far left extremist back benchers, the Zionist Union will ultimately become partners in a national unity government that should urgently bring about highly overdue electoral reforms to prevent a repetition of the current intolerable situation.

Isi Leibler may be contacted at ileibler@leibler.com. This column was originally published by The Jersualem Post and Israel Hayom.

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  • Israel’s rights to the land is ingrained in history, archeological findings, international law and possession

    Just like the Arab States have not been required to defend their legitimacy, Israel should also not be required to defend its’ legitimacy. The 21 Arab States and the State of Israel were set up by the Allied Powers after WWI, when the Ottoman Empire relinquished its title to the territories to the Allied Powers. The British were assigned as trustee for the Jewish people to help reconstitute the Jewish State as Implemented by the San Remo Treaty of 1920. The San Remo Treaty adopted the Balfour Declaration of 1917. Of importance is the fact treaty terms and documents prove there was no state allocation of land to any other people or nation other than the Jewish people in Israel. It should also be noted the League of Nations set up the Mandate for Palestine as a State for the Jewish people with exclusive political rights.
    The Jewish people who lived in Israel for over 4,000 had additional Jewish immigration in the mid 1800. The local Jewish people with the infusion of more Jewish immigration, resources, funding and with the explicit permission by the Ottoman government, started developing the land. Within a short time the Jewish people started turning the desert and desolation into green pastures, thus, building an economy, agriculture, housing and industry. Many Arabs from neighboring depressed states who viewed this development as an opportunity for work and an improved standard of living, came to work in Palestine.
    It is of interest in this conflict to take into consideration. The Arab countries expelled over a million Jews, confiscated their assets, businesses, homes and land 5-6 times the size of Israel. Most of these expelled Jews from Arab countries were resettled in Greater Israel.
    Over the past 68 years Israel has become a thriving nation with exemplary innovation in education, technology, high tech industry and medicine. Many nations admire Israel’s outstanding development and innovation. Israel has always been extending a helping hand to any nation that wants to learn and advance in industry, technology and medicine.
    The Arab-Palestinians saw an opportunity to get land and a country that was developed and flourished by the Jewish people. They decided that through intimidation, harassment and violence to usurp the Jewish habitants into capitulating to their scheme of an Arab-Palestinian State on Land allocated to the Jewish people . The Arab-Palestinians live on charity from the nations of the world. They are unwilling to help themselves. After the 1967 war when Israel defeated the 5 Arab armies who tried to destroy it, Israel started employing many of the Arabs in the liberated Jewish territory, educating them in agriculture and water resources. In the following years the standard of living of the Arabs jumped 5 fold and more, and their economy and housing blossomed. When the terrorist organization entered the picture and instigated the Arab population to start terror and violence against the Israelis, the economic advancement was slowed down if not halted. The dire predicament of the Arab-Palestinians is of their own making.
    If you look at Arab land it is desolate and barren, with few exceptions. At the same time, the Jewish land is blooming and developing at an accelerated tempo. The Arabs, rather than follow the example set by Israel, tried to take the Jewish land by force and lost 4 wars in a span of 25 years.
    The Arab-Palestinians current actions in the political and legal arena is a result of losing 4 wars and various battles with Israel. They not only could not win ground, but in fact have caused themselves a downward spiral toward economic desolation.
    The Arab-Palestinians have switched tactics and have now gained more ground and concessions by playing the peace game. The Arab-Palestinians obfuscation and disinformation campaign along with various pleadings in front of the U.N. and other International bodies has gained them more inroads. The power of oil and the Arab Countries, who do not want the Arab-Palestinians to return to their countries, are helping them promote the false information, and utilizing their numerical control in the U.N. to pass any resolution that they deem necessary to advance their cause.
    Money, power and greed promoted hate and anti-Semitism by the Arabs in order to force Israel into surrendering territory to the Arab-Palestinians. The Arabs are trying to initiate land piracy camouflaged as legal rights to the land of Israel.
    Jewish resistance to persecution by the Arabs and the world at large: Any level headed individual would think that after WWII and the 6 million Jews exterminated in the Holocaust (plus another 5 million of other ethnic groups) would diminish, if not eliminate anti-Semitism and baseless hatred. It seems that no matter the amount of unwarranted persecution, and no matter the sacrifices the Jewish people have endured through the ages, Anti-Semitism continues to raise its ugly head.
    The Media is guilty of escalating hostilities and violence in Israel and elsewhere. The Media has a responsibility to deliver fair and unbiased reporting. They influence the information that people rely on. It is an awesome responsibility and it must be handled with factual un-slanted reporting. Peoples lives depend on it; maybe yours or someone you love. Do we need a legal task force to discipline the Media when they intentionally distort the truth and or stage events for Media sensationalism? I would like your comments and input.
    The affects on the world at large: Has humanity lost its values and fairness? The answer is no. In order to lose something, one must first possess it and the truth is, the world has never had total control of values and fairness. In today’s world, where money and power is pursued at all costs (see Machiavelli) , the core family unit is disintegrating and family values deteriorating. Honesty, integrity and fair-play seem to be a thing of the past. Where are we as human beings of the 21st century heading? Obviously downward.
    Take some time to reflect on the truth of what is stated here. Do you really want this kind of world for your children? Senseless hate and destruction must not be tolerated. I urge you to wake up, take the bull by the horn and pursue a path of correction, or we are doomed as a civilized people.
    YJ Draiman
    P.S. How many holidays do the Arabs celebrate due to historical events in the land of ancient Israel. The Jewish people celebrate most of their holidays and fast days in memory of and the goal and aspiration to return to Israel and rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem – where it was before it was destroyed and desecrated by the enemies of the Jews. Many of the Jewish prayers for thousands of years recite the love of Israel and the Jewish aspirations to return to their ancestral land and bring back its glory and holiness.

  • while BiBi has the power PRE-EMPT NUKE IRANs nuclear nest NOW

  • All the responsible Politicians from all the many Israeli parties once and for all have to put their personal feelings aside, step up to the plate and do what is the very best for Israel, unite as one strong government. Put your toys in the closet and the right thing.

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