When will the Israeli right stop eating its own?

Satellite parties on the right must realize they can either bolster the dominant right-wing party or face a left-wing government.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads the weekly Likud party meeting at the Menachem Begin Heritage Center in Jerusalem on March 14, 2016. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads the weekly Likud party meeting at the Menachem Begin Heritage Center in Jerusalem on March 14, 2016. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90
Dr. Limor Samimian-Darash
Limor Samimian-Darash

Historically speaking, those on the Israeli far-right have tended to challenge the dominant right-wing party. We saw this, for example, when the far-right challenged the Likud Party over Menachem Begin’s promotion of a peace deal with Egypt that led to Israel’s withdrawal from the Sinai. Ever since, the far-right has behaved in a similar pattern. The satellite parties became ardent opponents of the ruling party, so much so that they were even ready to topple the governing right-wing coalition.

In 1992, the right-wing Moledet, Tzomet and Tehiya parties all quit then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir’s government over his participation in peace talks in Madrid. The talks were not right-wing enough for them. We know how that ended. Tehiya did not pass the electoral threshold, and the left under Labor leader Yitzhak Rabin came to power. If that weren’t ironic enough, it was representatives of the Tzomet party who, in the end, helped approve the Oslo Accords.

Has the lesson been learned? Of course not. In 1996, it was Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu who members of Moledet and the National Union party took issue with. For current New Hope MK Benny Begin, who is now a part of a coalition government with Ra’am and Meretz and has the support of the Joint List, Netanyahu was not right-wing enough at the time. The result: Opponents of yielding 3% of the disputed territories in the Wye River accord brought us Labor leader Ehud Barak’s government, which sought to cede 97% of the territories at Camp David. Ironically, the successors to the opponents of the Wye accord recently refused a deal to impose sovereignty on Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria, along with 30% of the territory.

Time and again, the pattern remains the same. This becomes even more troubling when we look at what transpired on the left in the meantime. In 1992, Meretz’s election campaign did not call for Rabin’s replacement on the grounds that he was insufficiently left-wing, but rather to “incentivize” him in that direction. To allow Rabin to form a government, Meretz compromised on issues of religion and state, beginning with its acceptance of the Shas party into the coalition. One of their own, Shulamit Aloni, even resigned from the Education Ministry in accordance with the Haredi party’s demand.

In 2008, Meretz’s election campaign asked voters to choose between Kadima’s Tzipi Livni and Netanyahu, which again bolstered the dominant party of the left-wing camp. No one argued that Livni should not have their vote because she wasn’t sufficiently left-wing.

By contrast, the Yamina party refused to join a coalition headed by Netanyahu and Blue and White Party head Benny Gantz because Yamina—with six Knesset seats—was offered three senior government positions instead of four.

Meretz’s current willingness to swallow the toad in order to ensure the coalition remains intact is a model of political loyalty and humility the likes of which we have yet to see in this country. Meretz has set no conditions and issued no threats toward the government. The right-wing satellite parties, by contrast, have never treated the Likud in such a manner.

Now, we have seen the “unapologetic right” prefer Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid. We watched them go from satellites to the decisive member of a center-left government. Then Yamina leader Naftali Bennett transformed into a left-wing prime minister. Yet there are those who still fail to recognize the pattern.

The alternative to purely right-wing policies is a blatant left-wing government. Those who insisted on focusing on the illegal Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar not only failed to get a more right-wing or moderate center-left government. Instead, they got a new left-wing bloc, which includes Ra’am and the Joint List.

It makes no difference who is at the helm of the right-wing satellite parties: The lesson must be learned. The dominant right-wing party must be bolstered and incentivized, not bullied. Without the mothership, the satellite will remain lost in space. And this void will quickly be filled by a left-wing government comprised of loyalists capable of compromising quite a bit for the benefit of the greater cause.

Dr. Limor Samimian-Darash is a senior lecturer at the Federmann School of Public Policy and Government at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

The article was originally published by Israel Hayom.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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