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Home > OP-ED > Rebuilding A Government

Title: Rebuilding A Government
Author: Jonathan Friendly
Date Sent to Zipple: December 12, 2000

Ehud Barakís dramatic resignation as Prime Minister of Israel is a good first step toward sorting out what the nation wants next.

Now the Knesset should follow his lead and dissolve itself to face new elections at the same time. There is no point in pretending that the current members can overcome their mutual hostilities long enough to work with Barak or any other separately elected prime minister.

And if they canít steel themselves to leaving office, they should speedily amend the election law that limits the potential Barak opponents to current members of the parliament. However misguided some of the policies of former Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu were, he is respected by huge numbers of Israelis and should be allowed to compete in the February vote.

Barakís step was both bold and necessary. As we said last week, he no longer has a mandate to negotiate for a peace agreement with the Palestinians and must seek a new public backing. That can come only after a substantial campaign that gives the public a chance to hear in some detail how he and his opponent propose to deal with Yasser Arafatís return to violence and terrorism. Barak has said that the political right offers no program for solving the problem; the campaign is the correct place to test that hypothesis.

No doubt parliamentary parties would rather not have to present themselves for reelection after the sorry record they have compiled in the last 18 months. Barakís One Israel coalition "partners" proved to be fair-weather friends, ready at every turn to demand new concessions that distracted from a cohesive national policy. Barak, to be sure, often seemed not up to the task of bringing the disparate groups together, but the legislators did little to help him pursue a national interest.

Since there is no likelihood that any prime minister could deal effectively with the fractiousness of this Knesset, voters should be allowed to choose a new one at the same time they pick a PM.

Should Knesset fail to dissolve itself, however, it must move quickly to amend the election laws to provide that the parties can select whatever candidates they want for prime minister. The current law provides that, when only the top office is open, it must be filled by a current Knesset member.

That wonít do if this election is to have any true meaning. While other parliamentary groups, including the Arab parties, may offer candidates, "Bibi" Netanyahu is clearly the most popular candidate Likud could presnet and the one most able to articulate specific internal and external policies that would differ from what Barak proposes. Depriving him of the opportunity to run would be a cheap technical trick, unworthy of the country and of what Barak has stood for in the past.

One of the lesson Israelis should take from Americaís dismally ineffective (and seemingly interminable) Presidential race is that meaningful national progress can only be built by a vigorous public airing of what each candidate proposes to do about specific problems such as the relationship with the Palestinians, the future of the settlements, treatment of Arab Israelis and the secular-religious divide. Democracy thrives on sharp debate, and a tough campaign will reaffirm Israelís strength, not its weakness. The only unfettered democracy in the Middle East ought to remain the model for the region.

Jonathan Friendly
National Editor
Jewish Renaissance Media


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