Prime Minister Netanyahu and Yisrael Beyteinu leader Avigdor Liberman have finally met – albeit for just one hour – to discuss the possibility of the 63 votes they control being converted into Israel’s next Government.
It is hard to believe that having made that long-awaited breakthrough – they would be so foolish and obstinate to refuse to compromise their differences to prevent the Israeli electorate going through a third election within twelve months.
The direct cost to the Israeli government for new elections, including a budget for the central elections committee and state funding for parties running in the elections, is estimated at NIS 800 million ($220 million).
The greatest loss, however, arises due to the fact that election day is an official vacation day in Israel. The country’s daily GDP is approximately NIS 5 billion ($1.4 billion). According to conservative estimates, election day represents a loss to the Israeli economy of some NIS 1.5 billion ($410 million).
Liberman has publicly and arrogantly laid out his demands for joining the Right-Wing bloc headed by Netanyahu:
- Passage of the haredi military service law, as drafted by Liberman;
- civil marriage; [permitting] conversions by local rabbis;
- re-approving egalitarian prayer at the Western Wall;
- requiring haredi schools to teach secular subjects
- public transportation and the opening of mini-markets on the Sabbath.These two issues would be left up to local authorities in every municipality, based on who lives in any given town.
“We won’t accept anything less than this, even if it means sitting in the opposition.”
Crunch time has arrived.
Liberman has to adopt a more flexible approach and accept less than the ”all or nothing “ stance he has adopted.
Netanyahu is now in a much stronger position politically to accept Liberman’s major demand for passage of Liberman’s yeshiva student military service draft law – which was the deal-breaker in April. Liberman voters increased by 136684 in September whilst religious parties only increased their votes by 91188 and Likud’s vote decreased by 28835. - although religious parties, including Religious Zionists, garnered almost three times as many voters as Liberman's party received.
Civil marriage and conversions by local rabbis is a curly problem that could be re-sent to a Committee to consider and come up with recommendations. There are many ramifications to that demand and it is far from a simple demand..
Re-approving the Western Wall arrangements is not really an issue, as the egalitarian area already provided is empty most of the time, including the selichot period, while the traditional area is packed pre-dawn to midnight.
Teaching secular subjects in haredi schools which do not teach them already is a parental decision, but it could begin with pilot projects in specified schools in particular areas where the haredi community do not constitute the majority of the population – perhaps with majority parental approval.
Liberman’s proposals for transport and mini markets on Shabbat mean a change in the status quo that define Israel as a Jewish state, but happen in many areas now.
There should be a pathway to agreement on these issues that can be achieved with goodwill and a readiness to compromise in recognition of a greater objective – sparing the Israeli electorate another election and the possibility that another deadlock could result.
Israel is surrounded by enemies – especially Iran, Hezbollah in Lebanon and Syria and Hamas in Gaza that could be tempted to exploit the fractured nature of Israel’s current political circumstances.
There are pressing political issues awaiting Israel’s next Government – most notably negotiations on President Trump’s deal of the century and Netanyahu’s election promise to annex large parts of the "West Bank."
Ending this state of suspended uncertainty has now been thrust on the shoulders of Netanyahu and Liberman – following the failure of Netanyahu and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz to achieve a deal they could both live with.
Netanyahu and Liberman would do well to heed the sage advice contained in the Ethics of the Fathers:
“Do not seek greatness for yourself, and do not lust for honor”
Achieving greatness and honor together by compromising their political expectations will secure Netanyahu and Liberman a special place in the annals of Israel.
Author’s note: The cartoon—commissioned exclusively for this article—is by Yaakov Kirschen aka “Dry Bones”- one of Israel’s foremost political and social commentators—whose cartoons have graced the columns of Israeli and international media publications for decades. His cartoons can be viewed at Drybonesblog