The real issue (Hamodia, December 12)
The column of November 14, entitled “Rudderless”, noted that “this government has begun to crumble” and examined the implications of that state of affairs. But in mid-November, virtually no-one envisaged that the crumbling process would be finished by December 1 and the Knesset would dissolve itself a week later.
But that is how the cookie — and the government — crumbled. Yet even the political analysts, let alone the man in the street, don’t know what these elections are about or why they are necessary.
What is certain is that the early demise of the third Netanyahu government has prevented many initiatives and reform programs from being executed and, in many cases, even from being legislated. Whether that is a good or bad thing depends on whether you view those specific initiatives favorably or not. For example, Haredi politicians and voters will view the dismissal of Yair Lapid very favorably — but so will many economists, because they found his flagship initiative of exempting first-time home-buyers from the 18% value-added tax ((VAT) as lacking any economic logic.
Outgoing Health Minister Yael German’s proposed reforms in the health sector, as well as Education Minister Shai Piron’s initiatives in the education system, aroused great controversy when they were proposed — so their opponents will be delighted that these have been derailed. The same holds true for plans put forward by other ministries and government agencies relating to numerous areas of public life.
But even people who oppose this or that specific initiative have to recognize a wider, more fundamental problem. If governments cannot hold together for even two years, let alone the four years that they are supposed to last, then nobody will ever get anything done. The sorry story of the last government suggests that the inherent instability of Israeli governments is getting worse over time.
This general issue is ‘governability’ — is the country governable at all, irrespective of which particular parties come together to make a coalition? If these coalition parties are going to squabble so fiercely between themselves that the government they form cannot realize its program, then it really doesn’t make any difference who is in this or that government and who is out.
If, for example, you think that German’s reforms or Piron’s initiatives were wrong, that doesn’t mean that you think everything in the health or education system is fine. Virtually everyone agrees that they are not fine and that important decisions must be made. Not making any decisions doesn’t make anything better and it usually ensures that things will get worse.
Many people claim that if Israel had a two-party political system, with a clear government and a clear opposition, the government would work much better. However, one look at the American governmental gridlock shows that having two big parties is no guarantee that government will function well, or even properly.
Furthermore, around the world — the United Kingdom is the best example — even countries that used to have two big parties are finding that new forces are rising and that the political arena is becoming more fractured, making coalitions unavoidable.
Israel, of course, has enormous experience of coalitions of every stripe, structure and orientation. Contrary to popular belief, the Israeli system has worked well on the whole — thanks to the willingness of the legislative branch to allow the executive, meaning government ministries and primarily the Finance and Defence Ministries, to run the machinery of government.
But the big decisions, regarding essential reforms and, of course, policy decisions about both security and foreign affairs and also about domestic issues — have to be made by an elected government. To be meaningful, these decisions have to be thoroughly thought through and then, once made, implemented over several years. They can’t be left in the middle or, even worse, changed every two or three years by a new government.
The upcoming election probably won’t solve this problem and may well make it worse. But it won’t go away — it will keep coming back until it is effectively addressed.