Government in Search of Traction

In May, when Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu finally succeeded in putting together his fourth government, there was hope that though it was narrow (enjoying the support of the bare minimum of 61 MKs), it was homogeneous and capable of making decisions. The previous government may have been broader, but it collapsed after less than two years because its partners didn’t see eye to eye.

The results so far have been disappointing. The government appears to have difficulty gaining traction and moving the country forward.

Take, for instance, the natural gas deal signed with the huge American firm Noble Energy and the Israeli Delek Group. A short while ago, the government approved a deal, claiming that it had driven a very hard bargain and obtained the best possible deal for the public.

Then, in the face of a public outcry, it reopened negotiations — much to the chagrin of Noble Energy — and, lo and behold, came up with a better deal, which it passed this Sunday, again claiming that it drove a hard bargain and obtained the best possible deal.

This kind of decision-making doesn’t arouse confidence among the public. Was the last deal the “best” that could be had or not? And if the opposition was right last month, when it claimed that the oil companies were gaining unfair profits at the public’s expense, who’s to say it’s not right this month?

Or take the issue of Islamic Jihad terrorist Muhammad Allaan, who was in a coma earlier this week after hunger-striking for more than 60 days. Allaan’s strike was to protest being held in administrative detention without trial, and doctors were refusing to force-feed him to keep him alive and thereby deny him a tool for extorting his freedom from the Israeli government.

To be sure, administrative detention isn’t something to be proud of in a democracy. It denies the suspect a trial in open court. But in some cases, when lives are at stake, it is necessary. Yaakov Perry, a former director of the Shin Bet and a senior MK of the Yesh Atid party, who almost never has any kind words to say about the Netanyahu government, declared Monday that administrative detention is absolutely necessary.

Therefore, as uncomfortable as Israel is with the practice, and certainly with the possibility of the prisoner dying in custody and sparking violence in the streets and condemnation internationally, it cannot free him. The problem is that the government doesn’t say this in a clear, unequivocal way. Instead, it speaks out of both sides of its mouth.

Ze’ev Elkin, a Likud stalwart who is minister of immigration and absorption, told reporters Sunday that the government “cannot allow itself to be held hostage to hunger strikes by prisoners, because today it’s one prisoner and tomorrow it will be others. Today it’s a prisoner in administrative detention and tomorrow it will be someone who was sentenced to jail after a fair trial.”

However, the very next day it was reported that Israel was willing to free Allaan if he leaves the country for four years and that it was Allaan, or rather the Adalah Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel that represented him before the High Court this week, that was rejecting the deal.

What happened to Elkin’s cogent argument that letting Allaan go free, even if it is to a different Arab country (from where he can sneak back into Yehudah and Shomron), will serve as a dangerous precedent? Internal Security Minister Gilad Erdan was on the mark when he said that Allaan’s release to an Arab country would “lead to mass hunger strikes among administrative detainees — becoming a new weapon for the terrorists.”

We have a government with all the disadvantages. On the one hand, it is narrow and vulnerable to being brought down; on the other, it doesn’t speak with one voice.

Figures released this week showed that housing prices rose 2.7 percent in the second quarter of 2015, despite the government’s promises that it would bring them down. Over the past year, prices rose 8 percent in Yerushalayim, 9 percent in Netanya and 14 percent in Be’er Sheva. What’s a young couple to do?

True, it’s unfair to expect prices to come down with a government that has only been in power for four months. But the figures are the clearest possible sign that the public doesn’t trust its leaders to deliver on their promises to lower housing prices. The public doesn’t believe all the talk about releasing huge tracts of land, and taming the bureaucracy that terrorizes builders and raises their costs and potential buyers’ prices.

The public is not willing to take a chance and wait for the promised 20 percent drop in prices. It prefers to buy now, at today’s high prices, because it fears they will only go higher.

The government’s first responsibility is to gain the trust of the public so that it can lead effectively and inspire confidence that it can deliver on its promises. The first step is speaking in a single, responsible voice.