The “Coalition for Change”: Prospects and Challenges

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If the “coalition for change” led by Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid does indeed come into being, it will be a "rare bird" on the national scene, with the potential to extract us from the political imbroglio we have been mired in for the past two years and more.

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If the “coalition for change” led by Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid does indeed come into being, it will be a “rare bird” on the national scene, with the potential to extract us from the political imbroglio we have been mired in for the past two years and more.

It is hard to think of a more problematic government than the one we currently have. Not only is it a caretaker government, with all the drawbacks this brings with it—the inability to introduce dramatic long-term reforms and to make appointments to senior positions. It is also a dysfunctional government at war with itself, crippled by the parity mechanism and the mutual veto that frustrate any possibility of taking steps that would benefit us, the citizens.

Yes, the new government, if cobbled together from its disparate elements, will also be based on parity—but at least it has the potential for survival.

A government with a small party in the driver’s seat is certainly not desirable, but there is no doubt about its constitutional and democratic legitimacy, as long as it enjoys the Knesset’s confidence. We see such a situation in an increasing number of democratic countries, which, like Israel, are torn apart by extreme political fragmentation and deep-seated political disagreements. In Belgium, the incumbent prime minister, Alexander De Croo, represents the Flemish Liberal Party, even though in the last elections, the party won only 12 seats in the 150-member parliament. In Latvia, Prime Minister Arturs Kariņš’ New Unity Party, with only eight seats out of 100, is actually the smallest in parliament.

It is difficult to predict how the Israeli “coalition for change” will function. It will be a minority government with vast ideological gulfs between its member factions; and minority governments, not to mention that it is based on such a heterogeneous coalition, tend to be less stable than other governments. In addition, a small ruling party finds it difficult to steer the government’s course and to initiate and implement systematic policies. In fact, it will not even pretend to do so, and will evidently agree in advance to leave the hard issues aside, at least for the first two years.

But a government which is so heterogeneous will also have the potential to restore the principle of consociationalism to our political system—the voluntary sharing of power and cooperation among parties that represent different electorates. This potential was severely limited in the Netanyahu-Gantz Government, because of the rabid distrust between its components, exacerbated by Netanyahu’s legal situation. Here it is worth citing Switzerland, one of the pioneers of consociational democracy, which today has an extremely diverse government that includes the far-right People’s Party (that of the incumbent premier), centrist parties, and the Social Democratic Party. And behold the wonder—it works, even though the Government is composed of different and even rival parties.

As for minority governments, they can be found in many other democratic countries, and accounted for about a third of the governments formed in European democracies between 1945 and 2020. In some of them—including Denmark, Spain, Sweden, and Norway—minority governments have been the rule rather than the exception. In addition, Portugal, Canada, Slovenia, and the Czech Republic all have minority governments today. Minority governments are considered to be less stable than one-party majority governments (as in Great Britain), but they are not necessarily more fragile than “surplus majority coalitions”—the accepted Israeli model—which consist of multiple parties that together hold more than a bare parliamentary majority. What is more, a minority government can enhance the representation of a minority group, if the parties that represent the latter, support the Government from the outside, as was the case for part of the term of the Rabin government in the 1990s (considered to be one of the best governments ever for the interests of the Arab sector); and this is expected to be the role of the United Arab Party (Ra’am) now.

Should a “Change Government” be established, it will be just as legitimate as any other government. It is how its members behave, with modesty, humility, and above all with a sense of public responsibility, that will determine its character, stability, and lifespan. The current crisis is more personal than ideological. If the Change Government holds together, it will not be due to ideological consensus, but rather to its leadership. In personal politics, good personal relationships are no less important than ideological consensus.

The article was published in the Jerusalem Post.