Power or Principles

Power or Principles

Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.

In Israel the leaders of political parties have to make choices about joining a Government based on classic political alternatives; power or principles. Parties opt to join a Government frequently because their thirst for power exceeds their sense of principles. Watching the jockeying going on now in Jerusalem as Bibi is in the waning days of his time limit (actually only the initial time limit without an extension), it is easy to understand—not to justify—how Israeli politics has become such a turn-off profession, especially for so many young people.

To begin with Tzipi Livni, having seen her Kadima party essentially collapse around her–although they did run a slate of their own–opted to take her new party, Hatnuah, into the new Netanyahu Government. She and her party were the first to accept entry into the Government and she received the Justice Ministry for herself plus the role of key negotiator with the Palestinians. (Hatnuah captured six seats in the new Knesset while Kadima received only two.)

What is striking about this decision is that Livni had refused to join Netanyahu's previous Government. In addition, while it is not at all clear yet what the makeup of the final Government will be, it does appear that at a minimum the religious party, Shas, will be in the coalition. Following the preceding election, it was in fact the Kadima Party which had the largest number of seats, but Livni could not form a Government without taking in religious parties which she refused to do. It seems now she has concluded that being outside is worse than sharing power in a Government with Shas. Whatever scruples had kept her from allying herself with religious parties previously has been overcome by a desire for power.

Now Netanyahu is negotiating with Shas and has told them that they will lose two ministries, Housing and Interior that they held previously. For Shas being part of the system is more important than Ministries. They assume that power will enable them to protect their turf.

For Bayit Yehudi, the new kid on the block, there had been some thought that Naftali Bennett would stand his ground on the issue of the charedim and military/national service.  It seems now that this principle will go the way of getting into the power system as well. What precisely the conditions will be for their joining are still not clear, but compromising for power is clearly the route.

None of this is to suggest that a Government is place. Except for the deal with Livni, no determinations have been disclosed. What is clear, however, is that there are few among the potential coalition partners who are opting to drive principled bargain with Netanyahu.

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