Can Bibi Hold On?

by Heather Robinson

There’s an old Jewish adage about how you can ask two Jews for their views on something and get ten opinions. It could be said that Israel’s system of Parliamentary government reflects this truth.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sustained a setback today when he failed to meet a midnight deadline to form a new government.

Since, to govern in Israel, leaders must assemble coalitions, and party leaders must cobble together a parliamentary majority with the help of smaller parties, more small – and sometimes extreme – parties have power, and voices with real influence, than such smaller, more extreme parties generally do in the U.S.

In this way, Israel’s system could be said to be more truly democratic than ours in America. Of course, there are Labor and Likkud – which roughly correspond to our Democratic and Republican parties here in the U.S. – but many other, smaller parties – whether ultra-nationalist secular, ultra-nationalist religious, socialist, communist, nonreligious centrist, etc., in Israel also have a real – and not just symbolic – voice and power in government.

Although there’s nothing about it in the Constitution, in the United States, the two-party system has evolved as an organizing principle. As an independent, I’m not a big booster of the two-party system. I feel it ill-serves Americans by pushing people to rigidly align all one way or the other, to line up in knee-jerk groupthink that in recent years has spilled over into a kind of rigid hysteria that is not conducive to understanding of complex issues, to nuanced opinions, or to diversity of thought. Or to compromise.

That said, I can see how, in a country as enormous at the U.S., the two-party system makes government more efficient. A case like this with Netanyahu illustrates one drawback to the Parliamentary system: its inefficiency.

It will be interesting to see if Bibi manages to remain in power this time. My understanding is that the stalemate is between the ultranationalist party Yisrael Beiteinu and small ultra-Orthodox parties over the military draft; specifically, Lieberman’s Party wants to end the wholesale exemption for ultra-Orthodox Jewish men from the military draft and the religious parties won’t agree.

Remember when Bibi held his ground in negotiations between U.S. President Bill Clinton and Yassir Arafat, during the ill-fated – and fatally flawed – Oslo Peace process of the late 1990’s? I recall seeing the three men on television. Clinton was pressing the parties to move forward in negotiations, trying to ram through the creation of a Palestinian State.¬†I remember all the Oslo hoopla, all the talk of peace, and seeing Netanyahu sitting and glaring in Clinton’s direction, as if to say he knew this was a ruse and he wouldn’t go along with it. (Netanyahu correctly assessed the whole exercise was a Trojan Horse and Arafat, a consummate actor when on TV with Clinton, was preaching war and hate to his people in Arabic the entire time). At any rate, Netanyahu’s obstinacy – which was entirely justified, it turned out – cost him his position as Prime Minister, when the Israelis voted him out in favor of Ehud Barak in 1999. We all know what happened to Oslo; Netanyahu understood the obvious: making endless concessions in the face of terrorist violence was no kind of real peace, and he was willing to lose his hold on power – and did lose the prime ministership – over his refusal to compromise Israel’s security with concessions in the face of unrelenting¬† terrorism.

Back then, Bibi had the integrity to prioritize Israel’s security over Bill Clinton’s big Oslo fantasy, premised on the idea that Arafat and his cohorts wanted, and were educating the Palestinian people for, peace. Pretty much the entire time Arafat was posing for the cameras, he and his henchmen were inciting the Palestinian masses to kill Israelis. After nearly 1,000 Israelis died in a rash of suicide bombings as a direct result of Arafat’s sustained campaign of incitement, and this dream was reveled to be built on a deeply flawed foundation, as Israel had no partner for peace.

Today, Israelis on the whole are more sober-minded about the necessity to prioritize security, but Netanyahu faces accusations of corruption.

It will be interesting to see whether he can hold onto power this time around.



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