By Moshe Phillips, Matzav.com Newscenter
While keen observers of Israel’s political scene clearly understand that Benjamin Netanyahu is Israel’s most Americanized prime minister in its history, little is ever discussed as to what this means for the future of Israel’s political system. Netanyahu has spent more time in the U.S. than any of the other twelve prime ministers in Israel’s history. Because of this, his perception of the world has clearly been skewed.
In a starkly American way, he is an enthusiast for democracy, egalitarianism and civil liberties. Netanyahu, in his well publicized June 14, 2009 speech at Bar Ilan University in Tel Aviv, stated that, “I share the desire of the President of the United States to bring about a new era of reconciliation in our region.” Netanyahu believes that if the Islamic states that surround Israel will just embrace modernity and put the Koran on the back shelf that there will be peace. In Netanyahu’s fantasy, a vibrant regional economy and western education will re-make the conflict. Ultimately, his view differs from Obama’s in nuance only.
While often depicted in the media as a “hardliner,” a “rightist,” or a “hawk”, he is no more these things than was Ariel Sharon. Netanyahu is a modernist; there is nothing truly conservative or classical in his outlook. He sees religiosity as something best left in the Old World of the Diaspora. He is a pragmatist.
From his previous stint as Israel’s prime minister, Netanyahu learned that the political structure of Israel must be changed if he and the Likud are to ever achieve the kind of hegemony in Israeli politics and culture that the socialists held from 1948-1977. He will employ real politick as no other Likud leader ever has.
We should expect the following from Netanyahu:
1) A radical expansion of executive powers. This expansion will be highly difficult to roll back when the power shifts back to the leftist parties. (See “Public Policy and Electoral Reform: The Case of Israel” by Gideon Doron and Michael Harris for Netanyahu’s record on this in his first term.)
2) An increase in the use of American political strategists such as Arthur J. Finkelstein, a New York based Republican consultant. Finkelstein has worked on Israeli campaigns for over ten years and has advised Netanyahu in the past. More time and money will be spent protecting popularity ratings than substantive progress. Netanyahu will also encourage his admirers to continue supporting sycophant think tanks. Ideas will be trumped by image.
3) Netanyahu will once again push for the direct election of the prime minister– a particular personal fixation. This effort will be paired with a sustained effort to move Israel to personality based election campaigns.
4) Tighter control of the Likud primary election system. Netanyahu will want to avoid, at all cost, any efforts by the right wing of Likud to make the Likud into the nationalist party that its Herut forefathers intended. He finds the embarrassing and distasteful. He wants the Likud to be portrayed as analogous to the Republican Party in the United States. It matters not that Likud’s platform is much closer to the Democratic Party on virtually all domestic issues.
5) Party governance in the Likud will become less democratic. A of the religious and nationalist elements of the party will be carried out. The internal party courts and apparatuses will be fully deployed in this effort.
6) The Netanyahu camp will make a dramatic increase in the minimum Knesset election threshold a centerpiece of their political system reboot. The lasting effect of the reengineering the Knesset election threshold will be to marginalize all small and medium size parties and those “renegade” Likud elements. The goal is to manipulate the Knesset landscape so that the current twelve parties will be whittled down to four. Likud and Labor will be increasingly portrayed as Republicans and Democrats. There will be one far left Jewish / Arab list and one far right / Orthodox Jewish list. Both Tzipi Livni’s Kadima and Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu parties will be placed into the vise and, if at all possible, eliminated. The settlers in particular will have their political clout diminished to a potentially fatal level.
7) Netanyahu, for all of his American-like obsessions, will not support a constitution for Israel. As constitutional scholar Dr. Paul Eidelberg has pointed out, there is an enduring “myth that Israel is a functioning, free democracy with a constitution, representative districts and a balance of powers similar to the U.S. system.” Netanyahu will do nothing to destroy that myth – after all, he has been one of its strongest supporters and greatest beneficiaries.
The book “The Myth of Israeli Democracy: Toward A Truly Jewish Israel” by Paul Eidelberg is a must read. Order the book and share it with everyone you know who is concerned about Israel’s future.