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Cold Feet–Why Israeli Voters Shouldn’t Get Their Fantasy Government

The talk in the locker room at the Jerusalem Pool has been surprisingly conciliatory since the election last week. Dani, who voted Meretz (after seriously considering Hadash) and Siman, who voted Likud, agree that the next coalition should consist of the Likud, Kadima, and Labor, under Bibi Netanyahu’s leadership.

When I pointed out that the foreign and economic policies on which Likud and Kadima would be hard to square unless one or the other party betrayed its principles, Dani and Siman insisted that the differences were negligible. So Kadima advocates cutting a deal with the Palestinians in which they’d receive nearly all the West Bank, whereas Likud promises that no such deal will be forthcoming. So Likud advocates tax cuts and a tight budget while Kadima’s program calls for a larger deficit and more government spending to stimulate the economy. When you get down to it, Dani and Siman insist, they’re really the same. Why this yearning for the country’s large parties to rule together? President Obama has been learning some lessons in recent weeks about the futility of seeking bipartisanship when the ideological differences between the parties are real. Haven’t Dani and Siman been reading the papers? Here are a few explanations. First, Dani may favor a deal with the Palestinians and Siman oppose one, but neither thinks that a deal is going to be forthcoming anyway, and neither really thinks that Bibi will turn one down if, by chance, one is offered. After all, governments that have advocated a deal have gotten cold feet each time one was in the cards, and governments that have opposed accommodation with the Palestinians have nevertheless signed agreements with them. Neither really trusts or likes the Palestinians, nor Bibi either. Second, neither really understands the differences in economic policy. Both like Bibi’s business-friendly rhetoric and his willingness to take on established interests like the unions and utility monopolies, but both vilify him for cutting pensions and welfare. Both complain that the state is wasteful but neither wants to give up social services. Both think say they want an economy that encourages diligence and initiative, but both want their jobs protected. Both think Israelis should work harder, but neither wants to give up their afternoon swims. Third, they’d be quite happy if a secular unity government put diplomacy and the economy to the side and spent a year or two eliminating subsidies to yeshivot, religious legislation, and forcing ultra-orthodox men to serve in the army. (Of course, the locker room conversation would be very different on Wednesday evenings, when the pool is open to men only and fills up with haredim). Bibi and Tzipi Livni shouldn’t be tempted into listening to Dani and Siman. As sincere as their desire for national unity might be, it’s totally unrealistic. A government that spent its time squaring the different policy circles of the Likud and Kadima would get nothing done. If Israel’s diplomatic and economic position were somehow stable, it might just stagnate under a unity government. But it’s not stable, and without action, Israel will deteriorate on both fronts. I dread a right-wing government, but better a right-wing government operating under the watchful eye of an opposition hoping to take power in the next election than a hermaphroditic creature that spends the next one to four years screwing itself. If Bibi’s right-wing government succeeds, it will last. If, as I suspect, it fails, then at least the people may learn something, and we’ll have an eager, hungry opposition pushing for early elections. Read more by Haim at South Jerusalem

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