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Investing in Stability: Israel’s Incoming Government

Three successive election campaigns greatly undermined Israelis' sense of political stability.
[additional-authors]
May 14, 2020
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and Benny Gantz flank Israeli President Reuven Rivlin at the president’s residence in Jerusalem, Sept. 23, 2019. They met to discuss forming a unity government. (Haim Zach/Israeli Government Press Office)

A new Israeli government begins its official term today (Update: no, not today – Thursday. The official beginning was postponed. It is now scheduled for Sunday). In honor of the occasion, I wrote 35 comments for Israel’s 35th government in an Israeli newspaper.  For this English version, I’ve written 8.

Three successive election campaigns greatly undermined Israelis’ sense of political stability. But Israel is no less stable than many other parliamentary democracies. There are several metrics that prove this, one of which is the average term of a prime minister. It is not shorter in Israel than in other countries. And the same can be said about the tenure of governments. Shorter in Israel than in the U.K., but longer than in Japan.

Until recently, Israel Katz served as for minister of transportation for 10 years. Moshe Kahlon served as finance minister for five years. His term ended today. In Sweden, five years is a routine duration in office. In the U.K. even four years is a long time for officeholders. The average in Israel is similar to that of the U.K.

2.

Israel’s incoming government has more ministers than ever. Most offices in the new government are made up positions for politicians who want to feel more important than they really are. Is this an annoying waste of resources? Of course, unless you consider it an investment in political stability.

Stability is important. That’s why a significant majority of Blue and White voters support the unity government. Only a third of them think that Benny Gantz made the wrong choice by joining Netanyahu.

3.

The only party for which a significant proportion of its voters want another election is the Arab Joint List (49%). The Joint List is also likely the only party that has not exhausted its full electoral potential and is expected to gain more seats in the next election.

More studies confirm that there is an upward trend in the desire of Israeli Arabs to integrate into Israel’s larger society. Looking back, this may be the most significant impact of the last three election campaigns.

4.

In a recent Democracy Institute poll, even among left-leaning Labor-Meretz voters, there are more who favor a unity government than another summer election campaign.

5.

Only one government in the history of the state served its full term:  Golda Meir’s,  from 1969 –1974. The government of the Yom Kippur War. Is it possible that over-stability lowers the level of alertness of the captains and, hence, is bad for Israel? Is it better for governments to have a sense of time running out as this keeps them on their toes?

6.

The Netanyahu-Gantz government is expected to serve three years, according to the coalition agreement. The public does not believe this will happen because most Israelis do not believe that Netanyahu intends to vacate his office and let Gantz in when his 18-month term ends. When the public was asked in 2015 how long the government would hold, the most common answer was two years (41%). Only a small minority (13%) believed that the government would serve a four-year term. And yet it did.

7.

The U.S. election picture might suggest that the new U.S. AND U.N. Ambassador Gilad Erdan is going to have a harder time than his predecessor, given the fact that Joe Biden is leading in almost all polls. When Erdan agreed to serve in both positions, it was often mentioned that Abba Eban also served as an ambassador to both the U.S. and the U.N. Erdan has many qualities, but he is no Abba Eban.  Eban’s America had no “special relationship” with Israel. Back then, in the 1950s, Israel was a marginal actor in the American political arena. It was another era, Eban was a different man and the role was not the same. So, all such comparisons are pointless.

8.

It appears that Erdan will soon have to learn the complexities of U.S.-China relations and the implications of these relations on Israel. This is not a comfortable situation for Israel, but the Trump administration seems to want to see change, and soon.

 

Listen to our latest podcasts:

Akiva Bigman on The Netanyahu Doctrine
Tal Schneider on Israel’s New Government 

 

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