The new coalition demonstrates the absurdity of “the only democracy in the Middle East” slogan. Ninety percent of the Jewish public is now represented by the government, while most Palestinians under Israeli control have no political representation at all.
With 94 Knesset Members behind him, Benjamin Netanyhu is now the strongest prime minister in Israeli history since David Ben-Gurion, the founding father of the country. Netanyahu’s Likud party alone has more seats than all the opposition parties combined. The opposition’s 26 seats are not even enough to call an unscheduled Knesset session – and even this number is misleading, because it includes the far-right Ichud Leumi party, which is not part of the government but so far has supported it.
There have been slightly larger governments in Israeli history – the three national unity coalitions that ruled between ’84 and ’90 – but these governments were the result of a balance of power between Likud and Labor that forced the two sides to cooperate. Today’s mega-coalition is built around one man and one party – an unprecedented situation since the early days of the state. Netanyahu and the Likud are so strong, that Knesset speaker Reuven Rivlin, himself a Likud member, expressed concern over the power of the executive branch and the lack of sufficient parliamentary supervision from now on.
If one good thing can come out of this government, it’s the end of the myth according to which Israeli peace policy was hijacked by radical settlers. The settlements and the settlers almost never had major bargaining power in the Knesset – they are more the result of the occupation than the reason for it – and now they are weaker than ever. Netanyahu has no more excuses. Neither the settlers nor the left could get in his way. He is stronger than Ariel Sharon was during the disengagement from the Gaza Strip, stronger than Rabin was when he signed the Oslo Accord, stronger than Barak when he pulled out from South Lebanon and stronger than Begin was when he signed the peace treaty and handed back the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt.
Netanyahu can leave the West Bank or annex it. He can bypass the Supreme Court, change the system of government, come up with any voting reform he wants, change relations between the state and the religious establishment, recognize reform and conservative Rabbis or start a war. None of his coalition partners have any power over him, since he could get rid of any party and still keep his Knesset majority.
This huge government is no political accident. It represents the current zeitgeist in Israel. Except for 12 Knesset members from three left wing parties, the entire Jewish public is united in support of the current status quo of occupation and settlements. In the Forward, J.J. Goldberg wrote that the new unity government is a victory for the peace camp, but it’s no more than extreme wishful thinking; a desire to see in Israel something that’s simply not there. In fact, the Palestinian issue is only mentioned briefly in the agreement between Kadima leader Shaul Mofaz and Netanyahu, in a line that even avoids mentioning a Palestinian state. Article 9 to the agreement (Hebrew, PDF) states that:
The government will work to renew the diplomatic process and to resume negotiations with the Palestinian authority. The two parties agree on the need to keep Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, and on the need to maintain defensible borders.
(The last sentence is Israeli code for a rejection of the ’67 borders.)
When it comes to the Palestinian issue, democracy in Israel is meaningless. There is no internal debate, no peace process and no peace camp.
Millions of Palestinians are living under Israeli control. Most of them have no voting rights and no say over their future. The million or so who can vote never had their parties take part in the government. The current coalition highlights the absurdity of the status quo: (Almost) the entire Jewish public is represented in the government, and none of the Palestinians have any say in the decision making process. Again and again Israelis make up their mind – with a huge majority – to withhold civil rights from the Palestinians under their control, and call it democracy.
Did Mofaz sell himself short, or does he know something we don’t?
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