Israel’s election mess

Israel’s election mess

It’s as if the Israelis were out to prove that Winston Churchill was right when he said, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”
The immortal British leader said this in a speech to the House of Commons, Nov. 11, 1947. His tongue-in-cheek message is borne out by the fact that more than three weeks after a national election Israel does not have a new government.
Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud Party can take office as the head of a parliamentary coalition that includes 65 of the Knesset’s 120 deputies.
But that might turn him into a hostage of far-right and Orthodox parties that ostensibly have rallied to his side. For example, if the head of the “Yisrael
Beiteinu” party, Avigdor Lieberman, is displeased with Netanyahu’s political performance, he can quit, a move that would deprive the coalition of his party’s 15 Knesset votes.
That is why Netanyahu decided to urge two unlikely partners — Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni’s centrist Kadima and Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s Labor Party — to join a “national unity government.”
Rank and file Israelis seem to prefer this kind of regime as the best means of dealing with their country’s critical problems — the existential threat posed by Iran, the missile attacks mounted or tolerated by the Gaza Strip’s Hamas regime and the rising unemployment triggered by the global economic crisis.
There are several paradoxes in this attitude, however.
True, Livni’s Kadima won the highest number of Knesset seats, the traditional prerequisite for heading the incoming government. Netanyahu’s Likud came in second with 27. Even so, Livni could not muster additional support from any of the other parties to produce a Kadima-led coalition.
The operative outcome of the election was that the voters preferred a right-wing bloc, partly out of disgust at the way the outgoing government dealt with the military challenge posed by Hamas and disapproval at the unsavory if not illegal activities of several of its ministers, Livni excluded.
Netanyahu was rated by the public opinion polls as the front-runner from the moment the election was announced. This fact as well as the low-keyed campaign he conducted evidently prompted many of his supporters to vote for parties other than Likud that were sure to line up behind him.
Apparently the temptation was irresistible if only it was a double windfall: Bibi (Netanyahu’s nickname) as prime minister and a boost for the relatively minor party that is closest to your particular ideology, be it Shas, Yisrael Beiteinu, HaBayit Hayehudi (a remnant of the defunct National Religious Party and the National Union.
Had Netanyahu hammered away at the idea that the logical way to bring him back as prime minister was to vote Likud he might have racked up the 35 or more Knesset seats that the pollsters predicted for him.
The most ridiculous aspect of this political mess (in Hebrew slang it’s called a
“plunter”) is Livni’s demand that he adopt the U.S.-backed notion of “two states for two nations.” That is unrealistic in view of the fact that the Palestinian Authority has lost control of the Gaza Strip and is at loggerheads with the Hamas activists who control.
Almost as absurd is the clamor for a national unity government as the best of all possible political worlds — as if the actual election result, 65 to 28, is irrelevant.
Is it conceivable that American voters who preferred the Democrats to the Republicans would want the two parties to coalesce in the postelection government or that Great Britain’s Labor and Conservative parties would be urged to share power regardless of which of them came out on top? Never.

(Jay Bushinsky, an Israel-based political columnist, can be reached at