Discussions of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's options for forming his next governing coalition began immediately after the polls closed on Tuesday night. Will he form a coalition with the Right or a coalition with the Left? Will he bring in the religious parties or will he form a secular government with Shinui? Then again, perhaps he will decide to mix it up a bit and have many disparate small parties represented around the cabinet table.
But building a coalition is not as simple as counting heads. Each potential member of the coalition constrains Sharon's maneuvering room in certain ways at the same time as each potential member enables action in other areas. Shinui for instance, enables liberalization of Israel's economy but comes with the price tag of loosening the Jewish character of the state and accepting a defeatist view of our prospects of winning the Palestinian terrorist war.
Bringing Shas into the coalition will provide the Prime Minister with the ability to fight the war on terrorism, but constrains Sharon's ability to enact measures to restructure the economy to allow for growth. The National Union will provide firm support for winning the war and reconstituting national deterrence, and enable liberalization of the economy, but opens Sharon to opprobrium from the leftist media.
Then there is Labor. Labor's electoral defeat, like the political decimation of the Left in general on Tuesday, has been expected since the collapse of the Oslo process. Although Sharon has repeatedly made clear that his first preference is to form a coalition with Labor, it is unclear what Labor's 19 seats will bring him in terms of policy. Labor has no economic vision. And even after its political rout at the polls, Labor leaders from Amram Mitzna to Shimon Peres to Binyamin Ben-Eliezer remain fully committed to their wholly discredited belief in the false messiah of Oslo.
While options for potential coalition governments have been endlessly discussed since Tuesday, absent from the discussion is one simple question: What is the next government supposed to do?
When Sharon assumed office in 2001, his only realistic option for forming an even marginally stable governing coalition was to join forces with Labor. With only 19 seats in the Knesset, the Likud was not in a position to redefine the national agenda in a manner that would suit the changed military, diplomatic, political and economic conditions of the country. All that Sharon could do was stem the fall. And this he did.
For ending the Labor induced process of national disintegration, Sharon was rewarded Tuesday with a parliamentary mandate from the people to lead us forward. But what does he wish to do? What must he do if he wishes to be crowned a success?
The success or failure of Sharon's next government will be judged not by its ability to maintain the status quo but by its ability to move the country forward in three crucial areas. It must reconstitute our security; it must lead us out of the deep economic recession; and it must enact reforms that will strengthen our democracy.
Sharon has stated that his vision for ending the Palestinian terrorist war and moving Israel toward a peaceful resolution of the conflict with the Palestinians is the plan put forward by US President George W. Bush last June for the democratization of Palestinian society after the removal from power of Arafat and his terrorist cronies.
Our experience since Arafat instigated his war two and half years ago has taught us three important lessons. We have learned that the war will not end until Arafat's regime is removed from power by military means. We have learned that unilateral concessions, far from enhancing Israel's image among its enemies, erode the credibility of Israeli deterrence and thus embolden forces of war and destruction. We have also learned that Palestinian society as a whole must be transformed after nine years of totalitarian indoctrination under Arafat's rule before a replacement for Arafat can be found among a Palestinian population willing to live at peace with Israel.
So while both Bush and Sharon are correct that the democratization of Palestinian society is a precondition for Palestinian statehood, it is clear that such a process of democratization and pacification will take years to complete. Sharon's security policy must as a result be based on what will happen in the interim. There is no doubt that the world's attention will be focused on Israel after the coming war in Iraq. Sharon will have to offer a military and diplomatic plan to counter calls for capitulation to Palestinian terrorism and unilateral concessions by Israel to an unreformed and unrepentant terrorist regime and society. In forming his government, Sharon must answer the question of what coalition partners will be most useful in constructing and enacting such a policy.
The economic well-being of the country is vital for our security, our attractiveness to Diaspora Jewry, and our ability to retain our current population. Sharon's economic policies over the past two years have been characterized by incoherence, shallowness and error. This situation must be radically altered.
The challenge before the government today is to construct and adhere to an economic vision of liberalization. This vision must include radical welfare reform, slashing of taxes, privatization of government-owned companies, reform of the banking system and capital markets, deregulation of the media markets and a vast decrease in the government's share of the GDP. In forming his next government Sharon must determine which policymakers and coalition members will be most useful in constructing and enacting such a vision.
The bizarre spectacle of an unelected judge silencing the voice of the Prime Minister on television in the middle of a national election showed us that there is a burning need for reform of our election laws. The artificial constriction of campaigning and political speech by the Elections Law prevents open debate and free expression of ideas when they are most needed.
Justice Mishael Cheshin's decision to silence the Prime Minister together with the Supreme Court's decision to bar Moshe Feiglin from running for Knesset, while allowing Ahmed Tibi and Azmi Bishara to run show the stunning politicization of our judiciary's philosopher kings. The Supreme Court barred Feiglin from running because, while protesting the now thoroughly delegitimized Oslo process in 1994 and 1995, he organized demonstrations that disturbed the peace of drivers on highways.
The fact that the Court made this decision the same week that Amir Peretz, the head of the Am Ehad party, instructed truckers to stage a similar traffic slowdown only reinforced the sense that there is something terribly injudicious about our judiciary. Then too, in ruling that Tibi and Bishara were allowed to run for office in spite of their clear support for terrorism — support that bars them by law from seeking office — was further evidence that the Supreme Court justices use their power to check the Knesset in a completely unbalanced manner.
The revelation that Liora Glatt-Berkowitz, the public prosecutor who illegally leaked information about Cyril Kern's present of $1.5 million to the Sharon family was motivated by political considerations provides direct evidence that the state prosecution does not provide equal protection of the law.
Taken together, these actions point to the conclusion that the judicial branch and legal authorities of the country have enjoyed unchecked power for too long. Serious reform of both the State Prosecution and the judiciary is vital to the health of our democracy. So again, in forming his next government, Sharon must answer the question, what coalition partners would be most useful in conceptualizing and enacting this vital reform?
Finally, the rampant corruption of o
ur politicians that has come out over the past ten years must end. We have had five elections in the last decade. With the governing stability of Italy, it should not be surprising that here, as in Italy, criminal elements have infiltrated the ranks of our representatives.
The next government must enact electoral reforms that will make our politicians less prone to corruption. Raising the minimal percentage of the vote necessary for parties to gain entrance into the Knesset is one way to decrease politicians' exposure to blackmail. Revising the primary system by making party primary elections open to the general public, as they are in the US, is another way to ensure that our representatives in the Knesset understand that rather than being accountable to an invisible few, they are personally accountable to the public for their performance in office.
For stemming the Labor induced course of national destruction, Sharon was rewarded with a mandate to move the country forward in radical new directions. If he wishes to meet this challenge, Sharon must form a governing coalition capable not simply of filling seats around the cabinet table, but of enacting a vision of governance that will secure our democracy, safety and prosperity for generations to come.
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.