The Era of Wasted Opportunity

With the Trump administration in its final days, there is a sense in Israel of both gratitude and wasted opportunity. The gratitude goes to Donald Trump, who provided unprecedented diplomatic and military support for the Jewish state. The feeling of wasted opportunity goes to the Israeli political system, which frittered away two years of the best friend this country has ever had in the White House.

The damage that Avigdor Liberman caused at the conclusion of the first elections, in April 2019, when he foolishly refused to accept a compromise with the chareidim on a yeshivah draft law that could have produced a stable government, is incalculable. Such a government could have figured out how to make the most of the president’s goodwill, including annexing cities like Beitar Illit, Modiin Illit, Maale Adumim, Ariel and others that deserve to be treated as part of Israel proper.

Instead, that opportunity was lost because the (short-lived) government that was eventually formed, after a third election in less than two years, was an unstable hybrid that couldn’t make up its mind.

The prime minister declared one policy, favoring annexation, and the foreign minister, Gabi Ashkenazi, declared the exact opposite. This coalition-opposition hybrid included an internal security minister who clashed ceaselessly with the justice minister and an “alternative prime minister” who was barely on speaking terms with the prime minister.

The disunity also led, inexcusably, to the politicization of the coronavirus. The Coronavirus Cabinet would decide on one series of lockdown measures, after days of listening to top health officials, only to be overruled by some Knesset committee whose head was looking to curry favor with an interest group by easing restrictions intended for it.

But it didn’t stop there. Mayors — whose expertise is collecting garbage, not the coronavirus — announced their refusal to enforce even the Knesset’s whittled down restrictions. Everyone is an expert and anything goes, if it means garnering a few votes and headlines.

As MK Rabbi Yaakov Asher (United Torah Judaism), head of the Knesset Law Committee, observed last week, “There is a new corona mutation of politicization.” He was upset at members of his own committee who voted against a third lockdown despite the clear need to impose it (he wasn’t present at that vote because he was home fighting off COVID-19).

“It’s beginning to be in the style of ‘let’s harm health and pass the electoral threshold [by easing restrictions for one sector or another].’ This competition — who unravels the lockdown faster — is a mistake we will pay for.”

Politics and divisiveness are responsible for the country being run without an updated budget, with catastrophic results. Education, health, welfare and defense have needs that have changed dramatically over the past two years, but must still make do with what they received in 2018.

Moreover, the economy is in dire need of reforms, in taxation, in retirement regulations and in other areas, whose delay is having a devastating impact on an economy already hobbled by the coronavirus.

When historians look back at this period, they will refer to it as the Era of Wasted Opportunity. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu no doubt bears a large share of the blame, but he’s not the only one.

With the country so divided, electoral reform is needed to allow the formation of a cohesive government, capable of leading, in one direction or another.