The current political crisis in Israel may eventually prove to be one of the most promising opportunities for Israeli society in recent history. It coincides with a shift in the parliamentary tectonic plates, potentially accelerating an essentially positive process that could topple the flawed structure of the Knesset’s “grand coalitions.” This parliamentary structure has repeatedly connected the center-left to the Arab parties on one side of the political divide, while fusing the right to the ultra-Orthodox and radical national-religious parties on the other. This structure has distorted and undermined the Jewish and democratic character of the State of Israel, because both the center-left and the right have become dependent on non-Zionist or anti-Zionist factions, whose commitment to democratic values is questionable at best.
These “grand coalitions”are being eroded, if not gradually dissolved, right in front of our eyes. On the left, the Arab political parties have further radicalized their rejection of the Jewish state to the point where it has accumulated critical mass, although the Jewish Israeli public has yet to fully recognize its severity. On the right, the outrageous coalition commitments to the ultra-Orthodox and radical national-religious parties have generated growing alienation toward them. This process is escalating and will likely become more and more costly in domestic political terms.
Center-left voters will not tolerate for long dependence on advocates of terror, among whom even the “moderates” (e.g., Hadash party leader Ayman Odeh) are in effect demanding that the Jewish public commit national suicide under the slogan of “national equality” for the Arabs. Likewise, center-right voters, now being exposed for the first time to the full force of the ultra-Orthodox demand that the state finance their parasitic existence at the expense of the economically productive and IDF-serving Israelis, will refuse to accept this looming reality. Nor will a significant segment of the Likud electorate abide attempts by the radical national-religious parties to incrementally impose elements of a halachic theocratic state. The values and essential needs of the majority bloc at the center of the political stage can only be served over time by a coalition based on two major Zionist parties, independent of ultra-Orthodox separatists, messianic Jews, and radical Arab nationalists. Any of those extremist factions would only be allowed to join as junior partners accepting the preferences of the senior coalition parties—builders of Israel’s society and country.
The previous government, the “Government of Change,” proved that the right and the left—even Ze’ev Elkin and Nitzan Horowitz, respectively—can reach common ground, since the majority of the productive and Zionist public is not polarized on basic values or on socioeconomic and security issues. On values, no significant segment of the mainstream is tired of democracy or Jewish identity. In the socioeconomic domain, there are not many dogmatic socialists or “capitalist pigs” in Israel; there are tensions that can be resolved within a slightly modified version of Israel’s existing welfare state. As for security issues, there is no real disagreement on Iran, the top strategic threat. On the Palestinian question, there is a broad consensus that a historic compromise is not imminent and that Palestinian rejectionism, incitement, and addiction to terrorism are structural. Discussion regarding the long-term future of the West Bank is, regrettably, not on the national agenda.
The current crisis regarding the status of the judiciary is being waged, at its core, between two groups of power-hungry politicians. On one hand, politicians clad in the robes of judges and jurists have been striving hard for three decades to impose, in the name of the law, their values, preferences, and positions, consistently obstructing effective public supervision over their arbitrary rulings. Elected politicians, for their part, now seek to impose—in the name of the voters’ will—their own choices, without any real judicial oversight or limits to the legitimacy and extent of their authority. Thus far, the struggle between these two political elites has largely been waged within the the legitimate confines of the democratic process. It is expected to intensify until an inevitable compromise is eventually reached, no doubt following a noisy and fierce battle. It will force the executive, legislative, and judicial branches to reinstate checks and balances to their power.
The road to common ground, likely long and drawn out, will be dictated by political reality. It will feature ugly scenes and will require politicians to climb down from tall trees and abandon empty slogans. Such common ground is probable because, over time, the two main parties—from the center-left and center-right, the likely constituents of the future coalition—will need each other to establish a functioning government, adjusting itself to the shift in the tectonic plates of society and politics in Israel.
An earlier Hebrew version of this article was published in Ynet on March 1, 2023.
Dr. Schueftan is the Head of the International Graduate Program in National Security Studies at the University of Haifa and a lecturer in the graduate security programs at Tel Aviv University.