'If Lieberman is forced to retire from politics, another era will come to an end'
Photo: Ohad Zwigenberg

Turning point in Israeli politics?

Op-ed: Haredi exclusion from government, possible Lieberman conviction may re-create two political blocs, Right and Left-Center

Ze'ev Ben Aryeh, who served as Israel's ambassador to Belarus, told the court during former Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman's trial: "We were both in a dark room, we were watching television, when I said one sentence: 'I have something important I think you should know.' Because the room was dark, Mr. Lieberman could not review the note. He went out to the adjacent room, was gone for no longer than a minute, came back and said the following sentence: 'It's nonsense and there is nothing to talk about.' With that, the affair ended. We never spoke about it again."


What looks like a scene taken from the dark Hollywood film era may not only determine Lieberman's personal fate, but also serve as a turning point in Israeli politics. If the trial ends with a conviction, which will force the foreign minister-designate to retire from politics, according to a promise he made as well, another era will come to an end. Then, perhaps, we will be able to declare the start of the fourth turning point in the conduct of Israel's governments.


The first turning point took place in the 1977 elections. It was the conclusion of a long chapter in which the Mapai party controlled our politics with hardly any limits. It began with the settlement enterprise in the Land of Israel before the State's establishment, the War of Independence and the absorption of millions of new immigrants, and ended with the disappointment of the Yom Kippur War. The public had enough of the autocracy of a party which did as it pleased, for better or worse, and preferred the two-bloc system of the Left and Right camps, which were almost equal in size.


Despite the bitter and emotional rivalry between the Likud and Ma'arach parties, this was one of the most productive periods in Israel in the social and economic fields and in the peace processes. The dispute between the two parties over ethnic gaps led to the recruitment of development town mayors to the Knesset and government and to the creation of affirmative action for Mizrahi Jews. In the economic area, the dispute between the capitalist and socialist perceptions led to the privatization of government companies and organizations belonging to the Histradrut labor federation and to increased competition.


The greatest changes took place in the political field. After Golda Meir's paralyzed government, which led to the outbreak of the Yom Kippur War, it was Menachem Begin – a Likud member of all people – who brought a peace agreement with Egypt. Yitzhak Rabin signed a peace treaty with Jordan and an interim agreement with the Palestinians. The envy of scholars increases wisdom (as our sages of blessed memory said), and the envy of parties increased action.


The second turning point took place in the mid 1990s, when the two major parties were weakened because of the system of direct election of the prime minister and the increase in the strength of Shas. The inability of both Labor and the Likud to form stable government turned a party controlled by a haredi rabbi with no democratic values into their deciding factor. The Netanyahu government was toppled in 1999 after two and a half years, and the Barak government was topped in 2001 after a year and a half. It was the lost time of Israeli politics, when prime ministers failed to advance any important issues and made false moves.


The third turning point took place in the first decade of the 21st century, with the increase in Yisrael Beiteinu's power, which turned the party into a deciding factor in Israel's governments. Lieberman is a one-man party, with a radical worldview, who paralyzed the second Netanyahu government in terms of the peace process. At the same time Shas, together with United Torah Judaism, controlled the country's economic resources in favor of a public evading military service and workforce participation.


The exclusion of the haredim from the government and the possibility that Lieberman will retire from politics may bring about a political change in Israel with a re-creation of two political blocs, Right and Left-Center. This will mark a return to the period between the 1980s and 1996, when the parties realized that their ability to be elected and rule depends on public opinion and on the moves they make rather than on religious or secular ayatollahs.



פרסום ראשון: 05.02.13, 20:01
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