Those who think the demise of Labor and the affiliation of Ehud Barak’s rump faction to the government is a coup for Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu are mistaken. This latest realignment is yet another example of how our politics seem motivated more by personal aggrandizement and power than the national interest.
Excluding post-Zionist leftist splinter groups and their extremist counterparts on the far Right, the vast majority today recoils from ideologies and yearns for a responsible, moderate government dealing with issues in a pragmatic manner.
But that cannot prevail in a government where minority parties with one-dimensional agendas can exercise excessive clout and veto policies the national interest demands.
This becomes even more relevant given the existential threats confronting us – possibly the greatest challenges since the establishment of the state.
Dark storm clouds are gathering. The Iranian nuclear threat has not diminished; the tide of hostile public opinion throughout the world continues to mount; our military leaders speak openly of an impending war, and warn that the longrange rockets provided to Hizbullah and Hamas may cause unprecedented civilian casualties.
Yet despite these chilling developments, in the political arena business proceeds as usual. The politicians continue behaving as if their only concerns are to score points against their opponents, and fail to focus on the looming dangers.
The government is already displaying signs of dysfunctionality. When during such difficult times the prime minister and foreign minister repeatedly contradict one another publicly over major policy issues, one senses that the coalition is heading towards dissolution.
Those who believe that such behavior represents a good cop-bad cop scenario are sadly mistaken. It reflects weak and divided leadership, and sends a global message that our government should not be taken seriously, or relied upon to fulfill its commitments.
The demise of Labor places Netanyahu even more at the mercy of Avigdor Lieberman, who is now uninhibitedly adopting populist macho positions, irrespective of the long-term consequences. His principal objective is to garner more votes than Likud in the next elections and position himself as the next prime minister.
Indeed, if Netanyahu remains passive as Lieberman continues to defy and insult him, he will invariably lose ground to Israel Beiteinu and Kadima. In addition, Netanyahu’s continuing to operate a government in this manner will lead to further polarization at a time where unity is required.
IT IS now surely time to create the broadest possible government. But the first step in this direction must be for the two center parties to join forces. There are in reality few obstacles to achieving this.
Indeed, Kadima includes a substantial number of former Likud members who were opportunists, taking advantage of a new party to enhance or launch their personal political careers. To this day, Kadima continues absorbing dropouts from other parties – including forlorn Labor politicians. When the chips are down, there are no significant policy differences between Kadima and Likud.
In fact, to the extent that ideology applies at all, most of the representatives of both parties are birds of a feather, inclined toward a center-right outlook.
Were Kadima heading the government, it would be obliged to implement virtually identical policies to those of the current administration.
To the chagrin of many of us, Netanyahu and Kadima leader Tzipi Livni both continue mouthing false expectations about the peace process.
They do so presumably because they feel an obligation to the US to partake in the global theater based on the delusional premise that the duplicitous Mahmoud Abbas and Fatah are moderates, and either capable or willing to reach an accord.
But hopefully, both have now learned the bitter lesson that unilateral concessions contribute toward the Palestinian strategy of dismantling Jewish sovereignty in stages. And both recognize that a Palestinian state must not be created in the absence of defensible borders and the assurance that our neighbor will be demilitarized to prevent it becoming a launching pad for future Iranian aggression.
These policy aspirations are shared by most Likud and Kadima MKs, and reflect a broad consensus among the public.
The differences between Netanyahu and Livni principally amount to competing political and personal ambitions.
Now is the time for us to demand that they set aside these personal differences and work together with expert advisers to chart both domestic and foreign long-term strategies motivated solely by the national interest. Such a scenario would delight most of us, as policies would no longer be subject to excessive political leverage or vetoes from smaller parties, and would thus also facilitate electoral and other long-overdue social reforms.
But unfortunately, instead of reaching out to one another, Netanyahu and Livni continue sparring like children, and abusing each other as though they were living in a country without a care in the world.
Netanyahu is a disciple of Menachem Begin. He should behave the way his former leader would have acted under similar circumstances. He should consider the future of the nation and, despite Livni’s hitherto irresponsible and even infantile behavior, Netanyahu should endeavor to reach an accommodation with her while rejecting demands for a prime ministerial rotation system.
Livni is also a disciple of Begin, who in 1967, when the state was endangered, rose above party politics and joined the cabinet without even requesting a ministerial portfolio. She would do well to follow his example and join the government without making excessive demands. Under such circumstances, she would discover that her declining popularity would be reversed overnight.
At the same time, Netanyahu should aim to retain Israel Beiteinu and Shas in his government. But if they are too demanding, or refuse to accept a reallocation of ministerial portfolios, he must then let them go. What is of utmost importance is that the nation be led by a united centrist government, and that the world recognizes this.
Both Netanyahu and Livni must set aside their differences, take account of the will of the people and unite to place the national interest uppermost.
Should they fail to rise to the occasion, history will judge them harshly for endangering our future.
This column was originally published in the Jerusalem Post