Commentary Magazine


Israel’s Right Discovers Political Sanity

Anyone familiar with Israeli politics knows that the Israeli right’s worst enemy is itself. Small right-of-center factions toppled both Yitzhak Shamir’s Likud-led government in 1992 and Benjamin Netanyahu’s first government in 1999; those decisions led, respectively, to Yitzhak Rabin’s election and the Oslo Accords, and to Ehud Barak’s election and the second intifada.

Moreover, it was rightist voters who ensured Rabin’s victory by wasting thousands of votes on splinter parties that failed to enter the Knesset. Had all those votes gone to the main center-right party, Likud, Shamir would have formed the next government and not Rabin. Yet instead of learning the lesson, rightists continued wasting thousands of votes on unelectable splinter parties in subsequent elections.

So it was encouraging to read the following notice in a local newsletter (Hebrew only) published by the West Bank settlement of Eli: “After much thought, it has been decided by the [Givat Hayovel neighborhood] committee, the town council and rabbis, with backing from senior officials involved in the matter, to register people for Likud. Likud is the ruling party, and that is where we need to have an influence. … Joining Likud is the most effective way of influencing ministers and Knesset members to work with us on both the court case and other matters of importance to the town.”

Granted, Eli is only one settlement, and its decision stems from a very specific problem: the aforementioned court case, in which Peace Now is seeking a court order to raze Givat Hayovel on the grounds that it was built illegally. Eli contends that the neighborhood, built with massive government support, was always slated for legalization and needs only the final government permits — hence its quest for lobbying clout.

Nevertheless, this is a revolution. During Likud’s last membership drive, in 2008, a party activist who canvassed Eli and other settlements using this very same argument told me despairingly that most people didn’t get it. Now it is being promoted by the town’s entire political and religious leadership.

Moreover, many other settlements face similar problems with permits. So if Eli has reached this conclusion, it’s likely that other settlements are or will be doing the same.

This still doesn’t solve the problem of splinter voting, since joining Likud doesn’t oblige one to vote for it. Yet large-scale party membership carries its own dynamic: if those rightists who previously shunned Likud instead start working from within it, the party will presumably become more responsive to their needs, thus encouraging more of them to vote for it.

That in turn could promote more effective government. Israel’s current governing coalition comprises six different parties, with Likud commanding barely a third of its seats, and these parties’ disagreements have led to paralysis on many issues. A government composed of a larger Likud with fewer coalition partners would presumably find it easier to push through vital domestic initiatives.

That still remains a distant dream. But the first step is for rightists to understand that they need to work from within Likud rather than outside it. And it seems that is finally starting to happen.

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