Israel's Elections: What a Mess

Fans of parliamentary-style democracies will have a lot of explaining to do in the weeks ahead. The results in the Israeli elections were inconclusive, and it now falls to politicians who were just yesterday competing against one another to enter into negotiations for the formation of a government tomorrow. The party that won the most seats in parliament, the centrist Kadima party, will have trouble forming a government because the Knesset as a whole shifted to the right. Bibi Netanyahu appears most likely to be able to cobble together enough votes to win a vote of confidence.

There are people whose blood pressure appears to rise at the mere mention of Netanyahu’s name. They should relax. On the most vexing question facing the next prime minister – what to do about Iran’s nuclear ambitions – no matter who is prime minister, the military advisors are going to have a determinative say in how to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran. An attack on the suspected nuclear sites would be very difficult to pull off, and it may be the better part of wisdom to try and manipulate the upcoming Iranian elections using Israel’s sophisticated intelligence forces.

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The security issue where Netanyahu will likely make a difference is Gaza. He has said that the current government did not finish the job of destroying Hamas, but it should be clear to everyone that Hamas is not going to be destroyed exclusively by military means or overnight. If he goes back in to the region, he risks a repeat of Israel’s unsuccessful war in Lebanon which not only did not destroy Hezbollah but left Israel’s military bloodied by their inability to defeat the terrorist organization.

Would-be Prime Minister Tzipi Livni, head of Kadima and the current foreign minister, has vowed to try and form a national coalition government, reaching out to the center and not to the extremes. It is hoped she would join one as well, for there is nothing to prevent Netanyahu from reaching out to the center as well. Politically, his claim to the Prime Ministership rests not on his Likud Party’s showing, but on the fact that right-of-center parties took 65 of the 120 seats in the Knesset and Likud is the largest of the right-of-center parties. But, once he is invited to form a government, he can move in any direction he wants.

The most important thing Israel’s political leaders can do right now is keep the racist but popular Avigdor Lieberman out of the Cabinet. Lieberman not only holds unnecessarily hawkish views on foreign policy, his attacks on the loyalty of Israel’s Arab citizens put one in mind of the Know-Nothings, the bigots in the nineteenth century who leveled the charge of dual loyalties at Catholics. If Netanyahu is charged with forming a government, it is imperative that he, too, seeks a national coalition government, turning left and bringing in Kadima and Livni rather than agreeing to govern with Lieberman.

While we Americans still have failed to seat a junior senator from Minnesota, it ill behooves us to cast aspersions on how others practice democracy. And, there are aspects of a parliamentary system that commend themselves. But, the day after Israel’s fractious elections, our winner-take-all system is looking significantly more stable.

 

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