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Tel Aviv — Contrary to the fears of policy paralysis voiced at the time, the government was able to tame inflation then running at some 400%. During his stint as foreign minister, Peres also secretly negotiated the outline of a peace agreement with Jordan’s King Hussein that would have seen Israel make substantial territorial concessions on the West Bank to Jordan. But Shamir, then prime minister, quashed this plan.
This experience has led some to argue, contrary to Shaffir’s concerns, that in a parliamentary system like Israel’s, it is only within the government that opposition voices have any hope of having influence.
Abraham Diskin, a professor of politics at the Hebrew University, termed fears for democratic debate under the new political arrangement “nonsense.”
In its 64 years Israel has had five unity governments, he said, and only two completed their terms. Coalition partners “were strong enough not only to criticize them but also to close them down” he said, arguing that this proves they do constitute strong internal opposition.
Diskin expects things will be no different this time. Citing the clashing agendas of parties in the current government, such as the ultra-Orthodox Shas and the predominantly secular Yisrael Beiteinu, he expects “serious tensions in the coalition.” But he conceded that Kadima’s membership was likely to weaken the social struggle, as Shaffir fears. He predicted that Kadima will back Likud in reducing social spending in the 2013 budget.
Those left out in the parliamentary cold by the deal between Netanyahu and Kadima leader Shaul Mofaz are a motley collection of small factions with no evident connective tissue that would enable them to play a coherent opposition role even at their reduced level of representation. Aside from Labor with its eight seats and the dovish party Meretz with three, there is the far-right National Union (four seats), which has a strong Kahanist contingency, and the far-left Jewish-Arab Hadash (four seats). The remaining four seats are held by two Arab parties.
Prior to his deal with Netanyahu, Mofaz voiced opposition to a unilateral attack on Iran without U.S. support — a move long threatened by Netanyahu as a means of stopping Iran’s nuclear program. Mofaz has also proposed establishing a Palestinian state quickly with provisional borders to be followed immediately by final status talks with the Palestinians for establishing more generous final borders. He has advocated that those final borders be based on Israel pre-1967 boundaries, with minor adjustments and land swaps.
At their joint press conference on May 8 announcing their agreement, neither of the two men referred to a possible bombing of Iran as part of their deal, but some of their associates have.
“When a decision is taken to attack or not, it is better to have a broad political front that unites the public,” environment minister Gilad Erdan of Likud told Israel Radio.
To critics of the unity deal, the fact that big decisions loom on Iran only increases the need for effective opposition. Meretz’s Gal-On deemed it “shameful that people elected on being a strict opposition and rallying for integrity are the people trading these principles when surveys give a low showing for the party.”
Arye Carmon, president of the Israel Democracy Institute, said that the unity deal has caused a rift between the public and the political system after the two largest parties said one thing and did another — Likud by calling and then canceling elections, and Kadima by joining the coalition it had earlier promised to shun. “Obviously it smells very bad — a major victim of the trust is civil society,” Carmon said.
But he added, “I don’t think that the issue of checks and balances lacking is a major one.”
Contact Nathan Jeffay at firstname.lastname@example.org