The Unity Government Syndrome

Our prime minister seems to be suffering from the ‘unity government syndrome.’ He wants everybody in the government and all parties to share responsibility for the next government’s policies.


(A version of this column appeared in Haaretz on February 4, 2003.)

Never in Israel’s political history has a party registered an upset even resembling the Likud’s victory in the recent elections. Under Ariel Sharon’s leadership, the Likud has doubled its representation in the Knesset and has created a solid base for forming a coalition.

Aided by the abolishment of the law for the direct election of the prime minister, and boosted by the public’s disenchantment with the Oslo process and its architects, the Likud has now assumed a position of unassailable leadership. The new law restricting no-confidence votes to “constructive no-confidence” will provide the new government with great stability and it is likely to last the full tenure of the Knesset, until October 2007. The days of Knesset elections every year or two are over.

With the Likud’s election victory, the collapse of Labor and Meretz, and the substantial reduction in the representation of Shas, Sharon is “suffering from an embarrassment of riches” when it comes to forming his new coalition. Political analysts are having a field day calculating all possible combinations and permutations of the next coalition government. Who will be asked first and who will follow? Who will be left for last? And who will finally join the charmed circle of ministers sitting around the cabinet table.

But isn’t this putting the cart before the horse? Has the election campaign made us forget the serious problems facing Israel and the dire straits of the economy? Shouldn’t the first order of business be to develop a plan of action, and only thereafter to determine which political parties are prepared to support it and share the responsibility for carrying it out?

But our prime minister seems to be suffering from the “unity government syndrome.” He wants everybody in the government and all parties to share responsibility for the next government’s policies.

Everybody loves unity, and one of Mitzna’s mistakes during the election campaign was his announcement that under no circumstances would he join a government led by Sharon. But defining the proper national policy and carrying it out is more important; and it is not clear whether the two are compatible. So what are we up against, and what needs to be done?

Israel has been at war for the past 28 months – a war that has caused more than 700 Israeli deaths and thousands of injured, mostly civilians, and has greatly damaged the economy.

The current economic problems are the direct result of the uncertainty caused by the war. Although there is much room for improvement in the management of the economy, there can be no substantial recovery until the war is ended. A continuation of this war of attrition bodes no good for Israel, and the new government’s job is to end the war as quickly as possible.

On this, the most important and urgent issue facing the new government, Israel’s political parties that are being wooed to join a unity government are touring three alternate position. Some claim that it cannot be accomplished by military means; others say that it cannot be accomplished solely by military means; while others insist that it can and should be accomplished only by military means.

The IDF’s actions in the towns and villages of Judea and Samaria since the Passover eve massacre at the Park Hotel in Netanya have proved beyond doubt that the military is capable of substantially decreasing the level of terrorism directed against Israel’s civilians. The doubts voiced regarding the IDF’s ability to operate in Palestinian towns and the concern for large casualties it was likely to suffer as a result of such operations have been dispelled.

The intermittent acts of terror that have nevertheless occurred since then have been, for the most part, the direct results of the IDF’s premature relaxation of strictures imposed on Palestinian towns and the hasty withdrawal of the army from certain areas before the job of rooting out terrorist cells had been completed. A determined military campaign can bring about a decisive victory – destruction of the terrorist cells in Judea and Samaria and the ousting of the Palestinian leadership that initiated this war of attrition.

This is the only way to put an end to the bloodletting, to restore economic confidence, and to set the basis for negotiations with the Palestinians. Unfortunately, there is no other way. Let those who agree join the new government and leave the others to criticize from the sidelines.

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