About the Next Israeli Government

It is still difficult to assess how Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will govern in his next government. The public has little interest in begging the Palestinians to return to negotiations. But then the Israeli public has rarely had much interest in pursuing fruitless deals with unreformed Palestinian terrorists. The only reason we continue to chase deals with them is because the US is obsessed with supporting Palestinian anti-Israel demands in the name of peace.

To a significant, if not necessarily determinative degree, whether the Palestinians will continue to be a salient issue in the coming years will be a function of events in the wider Arab world. The collapse of the Egyptian state, Syria’s civil war, and the potential collapse of the Hashemite monarchy in Jordan will all limit President Barack Obama’s ability to press Israel to give away land to the Palestinians.

At the same time, Netanyahu’s assault on his own political camp, starting with Likud and moving to Naftali Bennett and the Bayit Yehudi indicate that at a minimum, Netanyahu will do nothing to advance Israel’s position vis-à-vis the Palestinians. He is unlikely to permit significant new construction in Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria or significant Jewish building in Jerusalem. He is unlikely to undertake any democratic reforms in the Justice Ministry or the court system. He is unlikely to take any steps to boost Israel’s rights in Judea and Samaria or to undermine the terrorist-led Palestinian Authority.

Where the next government is likely to move ahead are in two other significant, if under-discussed areas: economic reform, and religious reform.

This weekend Israel reportedly conducted its first successful test pumping of natural gas from the offshore Leviathan natural gas field. In the next four years, Israel will become a major natural gas exporter and will make great strides in developing its recently discovered shale oil deposits. Israel’s emergence as an energy exporter will have a transformational impact on Israel’s economic independence and long-term viability.

Moreover, as the surrounding Arab world becomes more unstable, violent and fanatical, Israel’s economic independence and vitality will emerge as our most important diplomatic asset and a hugely important domestic trump card. Under the economic leadership of Netanyahu, Lapid and Bennett, as Israel stands at the cusp of this economic breakthrough, it will be led by its most powerful, and – at least in the cases of Netanyahu and Bennett – ideologically committed champions of free market economics.

Lapid’s emergence as the leader of the second largest party will lead to one of two possibilities – Shas, the Sephardic ultra-Orthodox party will join the coalition and have no power, or it will be kept outside the coalition and have no power. Either way, both in terms of Israel’s ability to capitalize on its economic opportunities, and in terms of its ability to transform the country’s religious institutions, Shas’s demotion from political kingmaker to political deadweight is a major and possibly transformative development.

As far as religious reform is concerned, one of the sources of social friction that has weakened Israeli society over the past few decades is perception shared by most Israelis that  the ultra-Orthodox community is comprised of freeloaders. The fact that most ultra-Orthodox men do not serve in the IDF, while receiving government handouts to study in state-funded yeshivot is one source of social friction. Another source of friction is that while its members do not participate in either the common burden of national defense or in the economic life of the country, due to Israel’s proportional electoral system, the ultra-Orthodox minority has managed to maintain control over the state religious institutions and so dictate the (sour) relationship between religion and society in Israel.

Both Bennett and Lapid ran on platforms of universal male conscription or national service and ending the ultra-Orthodox community’s monopoly on control over the state rabbinate. A Netanyahu-Lapid-Bennett government could enact major reforms in the religious establishment that would lead to a national-religious takeover of the rabbinic courts and the chief rabbinate of the country. Such a government could also require the ultra-Orthodox to serve in the IDF, and enable the community’s members to integrate into the economic life of the country.

All of these steps would have a salutary, indeed, revolutionary impact on the religious life of the country. National religious rabbis would do what the ultra-Orthodox rabbis have failed to do, or stubbornly refused to do. They would make Judaism part of the life blood of the country in a way that is relevant to the lives of the vast majority of Israelis and pave the way for Israel’s further emergence as the spiritual center of world Jewry. The ripple effects of such a reform would extend to nearly every corner of Israel, and indeed, to nearly every corner of the Jewish world.

We will learn a great deal about Netanyahu’s plans to contend with Iran’s nuclear project, the hostile Obama administration, the rapidly expanding and metastasizing campaign to delegitimize the Jewish state in the West, and the rise of genocidal anti-Semitic regimes in neighboring countries through his choice of Defense Minister. After the Prime Minister, the Defense Minister will be the most important member of the government, on nearly every level and every sphere of national endeavor. He has two outstanding candidates for the position inside Likud — Moshe Ya’alon, and Yuval Steinitz. If he chooses either of these men, then we can be relatively confident that Israel will rise to the challenges we face. If he chooses anyone else, then the country’s capacity to contend successfully with these threats will be more dubious.

But here too, external events may be more important than the identity of Israel’s national leaders. The gravitational impact of the Islamic wave engulfing the Arab world and Israel’s emergence as an independent economic force will limit the ability of any one person to determine the course of events based on his own political preferences.

We are still at the earliest stages of the formation of the next governing coalition. The reports just this week about Israeli Air Force strikes on convoys of anti-aircraft missiles being transferred from Syria to Hezbollah and fears that Syria’s chemical weapons will imminently be controlled by al Qaeda or Hezbollah; the still unconfirmed reports about an Israeli attack on Iran’s uranium enrichment facility at Fordo; and the mass riots in Egypt particularly in the strategically vital cities of Port Said and Suez all make clear that regardless of the plans of the next government, and the intentions of the Obama administration, many of the actions of the next government will be dictated by forces beyond the control of the Israeli electorate and the preferences of our leaders.

Freedom Center pamphlets now available on Kindle: Click here.

  • Anamah

    My best wishes to all of you in this magic indispensable and so unique Israel… Thank you Caroline!

  • http://www.adinakutnicki.com AdinaK

    Agreed, Netanyahu will do little to aid building in our capital, nor in our heartland. Much of his "action" is merely talk, and those seeking to build in East Jerusalem have the goods to prove it. You can't blow smoke in Arieh King's face, as he is deeply involved in Jerusalem reclamation projects. Besides, building is RAMPANT for Arabs, not so for Jews. A pox on the leadership's house, as they bow to Washington re "settlements".

    That being said, on the economic front he is an absolute winner. In fact, as FM he was stellar. Clearly, he learned his capitalist lessons while studying at MIT. As to Bennett, he has proven himself in the free market economy, having millions to tell the tale. He earned them!

    As to the army issue, here is what this American-Israel blogger had to say, only a few months back – http://adinakutnicki.com/2012/07/08/strange-bedfe

    As to the PA Arabs, I defer to the master of strategic security policy – http://adinakutnicki.com/2013/01/27/presenting-pa

    That about covers it.

    Adina kutnicki, Israel – http://adinakutnicki.com/about/

    • JacksonPearson

      I'm a bit surprised Bibi caved. Perhaps he knows more than is suppose to be publicly known, and is just being patient that Obama's a Middle East rodent.

      • http://www.adinakutnicki.com AdinaK

        Jackson, don't be surprised Netanyahu caved. This is his modus operandi. Some of my contacts know him very well and can attest to his spinelessness. Of course, "what he sees from there, we don't see from here" but that is not the issue.
        The moment a leader does a volte face, reneging on CORE promises to his electoral base, is the moment the trust is broken. Besides, he is a serial wishy washer. Nevertheless, he was a stellar Finance Minister. He turned the economic, basket-case ship of state around. It recovered due to his acumen. He understands what drives a free economy. Absolutely. So does Bennett.

        Adina Kutnicki, Israel http://adinakutnicki.com/about/

        • JacksonPearson

          It's difficult to know or judge, when we can't see.

    • Tom Ruddman

      "He earned them!" Here in America we're told that "we didn't build that nor earn that." "Obama and his Government did!"

      • http://www.adinakutnicki.com AdinaK

        Tom, Bennett built a substantial software company empire. He is an entrepreneurial wizard. Again, he built it from the ground up. Add in his military prowess, as a Sayeret Matkal commando (and I know their prowess well), and he is an absolute winner. The fact that he is nationalist Zionist renders him a keeper! he has all the proper ingredients to (eventually) lead the nation.

        Adina Kutnicki, Israel – http://adinakutnicki.com/about/

  • warren raymond

    If wishes were horses…

    I'm not convinced that the religious would make good soldiers. Don't get me wrong: I'm all for it, of course. But if they're unwilling it would be a nightmare to drag them there.

    What are the chances of it succeeding?

    • reader

      They could perform non-combat auxiliary functions – there're plenty to go around.

    • Raymond in DC

      There are three separate issues: registration for national service; the needs of the IDF and national service organizations; and financial support for those who don't serve.

      My suggestion is that they start with registration as an obligation. Arabs too. They can even include a check-box indicating a preference for IDF or civilian service. Those who don't register can be declared ineligible for a host of benefits.

      But not everyone is needed, nor is everyone fit for service. Those who are called but refuse to serve could be subject to additional sanctions, or they could just flee the country, as Shas spiritual head Yosef suggested yeshiva students do rather than serve. And if they do flee the country, well, that's one less burden to be dealt with. Let them try to live in London or the US without government support.

      And with a coalition not dependent on the haredi parties, the government can end support for K-12 schools that don't teach "secular" subjects. They can also equalize support payments for students in universities against those in yeshivas. As I see it, Netanyahu has an easy coalition of 64. 71 if Livni understands she's not a PM in waiting, and 82 if Shas understands they either cooperate and compromise, or they sit powerless in opposition.

      • http://twitter.com/sheikyermami @sheikyermami

        Something to ponder. Some good points!

  • ben jordan

    excellent article…largest long-term spoiler is turkey and their excuse to occupy syria is syrian instability/loss of wmd control and nato backing…ultimately they will challenge Israel and seek to obtain her emergent energy resources

  • Questions

    If modern Israeli nationalists can reform politics where the Haredi have not, I'm all for it. Normal Israelis have to remain on guard against the Arabs, of course, but at the same time they have to prevent their culture from being dominated by high-breeding Jewish religious fanatics.

    • ziontruth

      "…high-breeding Jewish religious fanatics."

      Such fanatics holding on tough for 2000 years are the reason why the Jewish State exists at all. Secular Zionism is nothing but a recent hitchhiker, and now that it's losing steam to the zeitgeist of multi-culti and "equal rights," it's those Jewish religious fanatics who need to take over to stop the ship running aground. As for "high-breeding," you think it's best to leave it to the Muslims?

      • dartson

        Holding tough for 2000 years means letting various nations massacre your people across the globe instead of fighting for liberating your home land (like Spaniards did)? It was the Secular Zionism (together with national religious camp) that created the Jewish state , not the ultra-orthodox camp. If the orthodox powers take over, the ship is going to sink, since there won't be anyone left to serve in the army (orthodox do not serve), run the high-tech industries (orthodox study nothing but Torah) and pay taxes to support this parasitic segment of the population.

  • Reuven

    Has the chareidi community always had control of the state rabbinate or was it at one time in the sphere of the Dati Leumi camp? Can someone briefly outline the history of the chief rabbinate in Israel and explain how we got into the current situation vis-a vis the controlling powers of the state rabbinate?