No More Sham Unity Governments

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To hold an election when a country is undergoing war and battling an economic crisis is far from ideal.

Yet it can also be argued that the Knesset was no longer representative, a large proportion of its members having outlived their mandate. Some were architects of Oslo, others of a Greater Israel and many had not fully come to terms with the fact that their goals had been illusions.

Most of us appreciated the value of a unity government in the wake of Ariel Sharon’s landslide victory following the ugliest election campaign this country has ever experienced. It provided a transition from the Oslo fantasy to the cruel reality and it gave us a badly needed respite to absorb the changes instead of hurling ourselves at one another.

But there is a strong case to claim that a so-called unity government like the last one had more than outlasted its usefulness. Indeed one could even argue that its dissolution was good for the nation’s political health and for democracy.

The national-unity government had become an administration of disunity. Ministers pursued their short- term policies for personal leverage within their own political constituencies rather than serving the national interest. We are certainly better off without a foreign or defense minister whispering to the media and foreign leaders that the government they serve is driven by “radicals” and “extremists.” Or that Israel has no choice other than to negotiate with whomever the Palestinians elect, even if that means Yasser Arafat.

Ministerial disloyalty and squabbling were becoming utterly unbearable for a nation confronting daily terror. Even our friends were confused by the contradictory positions taken by individual ministers.

The constant backstabbing and petty bickering were also undermining morale on the home front. Worse, it encouraged the Palestinians to believe that terror was paying off, that our spirit was collapsing and that we were about to unravel.

Of course, if the Iraqi imbroglio threatens to widen into an all- out regional war, or if Saddam tries to lob non-conventional weapons at us, a national emergency government would immediately have to be created. But even then its usefulness would be of very limited duration.

The key question is what sort of government would best suit Israel’s needs after the Iraqi situation has been resolved, when it is probable that we will come under pressure from the Americans to make concessions, including some which could threaten our long-term future.

To adequately relate to such a situation, we need a government with a clear leadership, a government able to speak to the world with one voice insisting that the confrontation with the Palestinians today is clearly not a conflict between two peoples over land, but a struggle with a malevolent enemy whose objective is to destroy us as a Jewish sovereignty. Such an approach today undoubtedly represents the broad consensus shared by the vast majority of Israelis.

THE ROAD map promoted by the Americans relates to the establishment of a Palestinian state within a few years. While agreeing that riding roughshod over American interests would lead to a disastrous no-win confrontation, we simply cannot acquiesce or remain silent over a proposal which could truly have disastrous consequences. Therefore we must marshal all our forces and present a convincing case against empowering a proven gang of murderers with a state, which would unquestionably be exploited as a more effective launching pad to intensify terror activities against us.

Before even contemplating statehood we are entitled to demand – and most Americans would understand such a demand – that the Palestinians display their determination and ability to control the murderers in their midst. They must also undertake to undergo a process of education designed to reverse the malevolent hatred and evil ethos which encompasses every level of their society. A culture which from kindergarten sanctifies the killing of Jews and hails suicide bombers as national role models, is no less evil than were the Germans under the Nazis.

We must explain to the world that just as denazification in post- war Germany would have been inconceivable had Hitler or other Nazis continued to exert influence, any process of Palestinian reform is doomed to fail if the current leadership of the Palestinian Authority remains in power.

Our government must persuade our friends with one voice that if we were to succumb to pressures for Palestinian statehood in the present circumstances, we would simply be recycling the mistakes of Oslo and bestowing a legacy of terror and murder on our children.

Of course, the ideal method of creating an effective government would be to change the electoral system and introduce high thresholds for eligibility which would eliminate the smaller parties. Better still, dispense completely with the proportional representation system which is responsible for tribalizing rather than uniting the nation.

But as such changes are unlikely in the foreseeable future, we should at least try to enforce people power and demand that all ministers accept the collective responsibility that comes with serving in a government. They should argue over policy and fight their battles within the confines of the cabinet room. But once a decision has been made they must forgo the right to express public criticism or agitate against the government. If they are unable to accommodate themselves to any particular decision or policy they should follow traditional parliamentary procedure, resign from the government and join the opposition.

If Amram Mitzna is elected to lead Labor, it is inconceivable that the Likud would collaborate with a party willing to revert to Arafat as a peace partner. But should Ben-Eliezer be re-elected to head the party, we must not revert to an ersatz national-unity government which paralyzes our ability to act effectively, highlights divisions, and confuses our friends.

We desperately need a government that will provide true leadership, exercised by a cabinet that adheres to ministerial responsibility and discipline. Only with a truly united leadership sharing a clear plan will we be able to win the all-important battle for ideas and strengthen support from our friends and those with open minds.

The writer is senior vice president of the World Jewish Congress. He may be contacted at [email protected].

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