In an op-ed originally published in Yedioth Ahronoth, IDI Former President and Founder Dr. Arye Carmon welcomes the merger of the Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu, which he sees as an important milestone in a long, necessary process of repairing Israel's political system. In his view, if leaders of additional parties would form large blocs, Israel will have a better government after the elections of January 2013.
From the establishment of the State of Israel until 1996, the ruling party in Israel had a majority of ministers in the government. This "controlling interest" enabled Israel's prime ministers to develop and implement policy. Their governments were able to run social economic policy, absorb immigrants, go to war, and sign peace treaties. However, ever since the elections of 1996, which shattered Israel's large parties and marked the rise of small, sectoral parties, Israel's prime ministers have been worn down by having to guarantee their political survival throughout their terms. In determining policy, they must deal with a paralyzing situation in which the government is comprised of many coalition partners who are all different and who must all be placated.
In today's government, the ministers of Benjamin Netanyahu's ruling Likud party are joined by ministers from five additional factions: Yisrael Beiteinu, Shas, Atzmaut, Habayit Hayehudi, and Torah Judaism (the representative of the latter is the Deputy Minister of Health, who has the status of minister). This government represents 66 members of Knesset, but only 27 of those MKs are members of the Prime Minister's faction. In this rickety coalition, Prime Minister Netanyahu must buy his survival anew every day, for every issue, whether diplomatic, social, or economic. This is faux political stability—stability that is born of complete paralysis.
In the current reality, one third of the Knesset's members are members of the government (30 of them are ministers and 60 of them are deputy ministers). This unreasonably large government with multiple coalition partners has severely damaged the quality of the Knesset's legislation. Party discipline has been breached and private legislation reached embarrassing inflationary heights in the last four years as compared to other developed democracies, with some 6,000 private bills submitted.
In anticipation of the upcoming elections, in which the fragmentation of parties is expected to be even greater, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided to do what Prime Minister Menachem Begin did in 1965, when his Herut party merged with the Liberal Party to form Gahal, which became the Likud in 1973 and rose to power in 1977. The experienced Netanyahu, who has been pressured and even extorted by his coalition partners, decided to join forces with another political force in order to regain the span of control, in the event that he would be elected for a second term.
The announcement by Prime Minister Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman that the Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu parties will run on a joint list—"Likud Beiteinu"—in the upcoming elections is an important milestone in a long, necessary process of repairing Israel's political system. A return to large blocs is central to this process. The political distance between the two parties in question is no greater than the ideological differences that were found between Mapam, Ahdut HaAvoda, and Mapai when those parties joined together in 1969 to form the Alignment, which later became the Labor party.
Advocating for the formation of two large blocs—center-right and center-left—has been a top priority for three organizations that have been calling for political reform in Israel for the last two decades: Save Israeli Democracy, headed by Amnon Lipkin Shahak, Yesh Sikuy, headed by Meir Dagan, and CECI, the Citizen's Empowerment Center in Israel, which is headed by Uri Dori. In anticipation of the upcoming elections, these three groups joined together this past summer and, through a series of intensive meetings, drew up a joint proposal for a comprehensive plan for political reform in Israel. One of the central components in this plan is that whoever heads the largest party immediately after the elections will be the person who is given the task of forming the government. Naturally, if this principle is adopted, the formation of larger parties will be an increasing trend. These aggregative parties will be made up of ideological camps, which will serve as a crucible for debate and internal discussion.
Mergers are not easy. In order for them to be successful, the participating parties must be willing to compromise, make concessions, identify what they have in common, and overcome their differences. Most importantly, their leaders must be prepared to sacrifice their egos for an important goal. If the leaders of additional parties would have the foresight to enter this promising, albeit painful, process of change, we will have a better government after the elections of January 2013.
Dr. Arye Carmon is the Former President and Founder of the Israel Democracy Institute and one of the founders of Save Israeli Democracy.
A Hebrew version of this article was published in Yedioth Ahronoth on October 29, 2012.