Oh botheration. ‘Ere we go again, as the earwig said as it fell off the rim of the jar. The midnight hour struck last night and no fairy godmother appeared to turn the pumpkin into a carriage. So we poor benighted citizens of Israel face another two-and-a-half months of electioneering, jockeying for attention, inane political ads, mind-numbing propaganda, and general brow-beating and misery. As if life isn’t tough enough as it is, what with the excessive summer heat, constant fires set by nasty neighbours across the border (and even some within it), and the general sense of unease caused by growing political tension in the region and global warming.
Israel’s election system, which is based on proportional representation (rather than the ‘first past the post’ system prevalent in the UK and most western democracies), means that no one party has ever yet managed to form a government without having recourse to the need for a coalition. In most cases in the past this has worked relatively well, with compromises and common interests generally forming the basis for a workable government. Matters of principle are all well and good, it would seem, but when the prospect of a ministerial post and its attendant perks and influence are dangled in front of a faction or candidate, the temptation is usually irresistible.
But now the situation has changed. Intransigence is the order of the day. And whereas in any normal country the party that finds itself unable to form a government hands the mandate back to the President so that another party can be given the opportunity, this has not happened here. Why is this? I hear you ask. Oh, it’s nothing serious, really, just a ploy to stop the opposition getting into power at all costs as well as to prevent the current Prime Minister from being faced with the possibility of standing trial for various cases of corruption and abuse of power.
About twenty years ago a similar situation confronted then MK Tzippi Livni, who was head of the party which had gained the most seats at the election. When the composition of the parties elected to the Knesset as a result of the general election prevented her from forming a viable coalition, she nobly and responsibly handed the mandate back to the President, and the then opposition leader(who was Benjamin Netanyahu)was given the task of forming a government.
But nobility of character is not a feature that distinguishes our current Prime Minister. True, he has considerable ability, is an excellent rhetorician in two languages, as well as not being above resorting to demagoguery when matters come down to the wire and the result of the election is at stake. But sensing that his back is against the wall, both personally and politically, he is pulling out all the stops in his attempt to prevent anyone else gaining the upper hand. This time, too, he finds himself unable to reconcile the two outlying factions – the head of the Israel Our Home party, which seeks to impose some form of partial military duty on the ‘scholars’ who spend their days poring over tomes in religious seminaries, on the one hand, and the ultra-orthodox parties, who flatly refuse to perform military service of any kind, on the other.
So it’s us poor suckers, the man and woman in the street, who have to pay the price for all the above. Worst of all is the prospect that very little will change by the time the next election is held, in another few months, so that we may find ourselves on an endless merry-go-round of repeated elections and costly concessions to persuade parties to come on board.
Welcome to Ground Hog Day.