Notwithstanding this scenario, there is still an opportunity for Netanyahu. For the sake of the Likud, and his own political livelihood, Netanyahu has an interest in bolstering the party system and upholding the principles which underpin the Likud. By accepting the limitations inherent in a party system, he can assert new strengths by redefining his candidacy and remaining true to his political base without having to resort to ideological contortions. Like Galileo, who recognized Earth’s true place among the stars– that the earth revolved around the sun and not the other way around — so Netanyahu should reconcile his place in the orbit of the Likud, its members and within inside Israel’s political system
He can do this by leveraging one of the few upsides in Israel’s strong party system: the insulation of political personalities from direct criticism. The political party assumes more responsibility in decision-making and the legislative agenda than the individual. The prime minister, as head of the executive, can veto his party on occasion and can carve out the party agenda from behind closed doors, but can also maintain a level of independence when appearing to bend to the will of his party; the electorate is served, the opposition is tempered by the consensus of the other side, and Netanyahu can weather the storm by gaining more influence within the party by agreeing to compromises for its own good.
By ignoring the institutional realities which weigh on Israel’s political culture and by hoisting himself above his own party, Netanyahu has in effect made his re-election all the more difficult. By rejecting his own party platform, he has alienated his base, caused internal party strife and ignored his constituents just as he asks for their vote of confidence.
Moving forward in these upcoming primaries, the Likud has a real opportunity to unite and return a favor to Netanyahu should he reorient himself around the party. To begin with, the Likud should bring ideas back into the political debate and articulate a set of initiatives, which it will commit to if given a mandate. Once this has been initiated, party discipline should be focused around this well- defined compact. Only when the Likud as a national political party makes the necessary reforms to heal itself from Ariel Sharon’s debauchery can it prevent Netanyahu from following in his footsteps. Only when elections again matter in Israel will conservative coalitions be able to rebalance a supreme judiciary, and successfully implant a conservative legacy of checks and balances inside Israeli democracy.
About the Author: The author is co-founder of the Jewish National Initiative (www.jni.co.il).
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