A Fresh Perspective: Israel’s new government – Facing challenge

US Secretary of State John Kerry (L) and Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif pose for a photograph before resuming talks over Iran's nuclear program in Lausanne March 16, 2015.. (photo credit:REUTERS)

US Secretary of State John Kerry (L) and Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif pose for a photograph before resuming talks over Iran’s nuclear program in Lausanne March 16, 2015.. (photo credit:REUTERS)

With the election behind us, and with the lengthy coalition negotiations advancing slowly, it is time to take a look at the serious challenges that the Israeli government will be faced with in the next few years.

• Foreign policy:
The Iranian nuclear deal
There is no doubt that the new deal recently signed by Iran and the world powers will be the central foreign policy concern for the next government. Simply put, this horrific deal is an existential threat to Israel.

Firstly, because it allows the removal of sanctions on Iran, letting Iran regain enough economic stability and strength to start over where it left off and reach its nuclear ambitions.

Worse than that: this new reality will bring the whole region to a nuclear arms race, with Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Egypt, and the Gulf states developing their own nuclear capabilities out of a sense of self-preservation. Nuclear weapons in a region defined by constant instability are a recipe for disaster.

It will only be a question of time until one of those nuclear powers becomes overtaken by Islamist groups. Just imagine what Islamic State could do with a nuclear bomb.

During the election, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was strongly criticized for speaking to Congress about his opposition to US President Barack Obama’s attempts to reach such a deal. Today, Congress is the only thing stopping this nuclear deal from being confirmed, and Netanyahu’s foresight deserves recognition.

The new government’s most important foreign policy mission will be to use all the influence that Israel has on Congress to make sure the deal is rejected by it. This is the final battle that Israel can fight to stop Iran’s nuclear weapons program through renewed sanctions before being left with only the military option.

Israel’s relations with the United States
The subject of Iran has caused serious harm to an already problematic relationship between Netanyahu and Obama. Up until today, it seemed clear that the disagreements between the world leaders did not affect the historic alliance between both countries.

However, the new low that their relationship has reached makes this question relevant once again.

One of the central strategic tenets of Israeli foreign policy has always been to have a strong alliance with a leading world power. With the establishment of the State of Israel, France served as that world power as Israel’s interests were aligned with France’s interests when confronting Arab nationalist fervor sweeping the Middle East and North Africa, including France’s prized colony, Algeria. France became Israel’s main weapons provider.

However, in the run-up to the Six Day War in 1967, France embargoed all offensive weapons deliveries to Israel. France also refused to deliver 50 aircraft already paid for in full. Israel needed to find a new ally, and it found it in America because of growing Soviet influence in the Arab world.

Ever since the Six Day War, the alliance between the two countries has been rock solid. This alliance was not just based on common interests in the middle of the Cold War, but also on a strong sense of shared values. To some presidents and other American leaders, this alliance also includes strong theological foundations.

Today, Obama is endangering Israel with some unprecedented threats. He cut off arms supply to Israel during the war in Gaza last summer, echoing the French arms embargo that led to the deterioration of that alliance. He is now threatening to remove the automatic US veto on UN Security Council resolutions.

In all likelihood, this is a personal issue between Obama and Netanyahu, and the next president, whether Democrat or Republican, will know how to renew the strong alliance that preceded Obama.

However, if the Israeli government will be faced with another president who is less than friendly with Israel, it will have to reevaluate its dependence on its alliance with the United States, seeking another world power to take the strategic place of Israel, or look to spread its bids by building strong alliances with a variety of countries, including some in Eastern Europe and Asia.

Israel’s relations with Europe
Israel’s relations with Europe are inherently different from its relations with America. The challenges facing this relationship are also very different.

The relationship between Europe and Israel has always been complex. It must be said that every country in Europe has different interests and every European leader has a different approach to Israel. However, the general rule can be that Europe’s relations with Israel are far more based on mutual economic interests than on military alliances or a sense of shared values, even if these things also exist.

Europe is Israel’s leading trade partner. As such, the main threat to this relationship is the strengthening and growth of the boycott movement.

Israel has managed to contain this threat through effective diplomacy, which caused most world leaders, including all leading European leaders, to publicly denounce attempts to boycott Israel. However, some battles were lost, with some European countries demanding that products coming from Judea and Samaria be marked stating their specific origin.

Israel needs to keep taking this threat seriously. It is a containable threat, but it is a serious threat nonetheless, and if it is not taken seriously it can cause serious damage to the Israeli economy.

• Economic policy:
Price of housing
One of the main issues raised in the campaign was the price of housing – housing prices in Israel have risen at an astonishing rate for the past eight years.

Today, all political parties have committed to solving this problem.

Two immediate steps that need to be taken to solve this crisis are as follows: First of all, the monopoly the state holds on land ownership needs to be slowly dismantled, through the privatization of land ownership.

This needs to be done slowly and effectively so as not to disrupt the market and to ensure the state monopoly is not replaced by a private-owned monopoly, but it needs to be done.

Secondly, the bureaucracy related to building houses is untenable. Today, in order to get a permit to build a house, one must wait around three years, but some analysts claim this can be cut down to less than three months.

There are several more reasons for the dramatic rise in housing prices, but one thing is clear: whatever the composition of the government, if it does not succeed in lowering housing prices, the electorate will hold it responsible for this.

Cost of living
The cost of living in Israel has also risen dramatically in the last few years. This is highlighted by the fact that products made in Israel cost less in Europe than in Israel.

The reason for the high cost of living is simple: Israel is a very small market with very little competition and trade barriers make it almost impossible for international competition to affect the local markets.

Naftali Bennett as economy minister started removing trade barriers to increase competition. However, there is a lot more work that needs to be done.

This is an almost Sisyphean task that requires the review of all trade barriers and local regulations that affect competition.

A government that will deal with this problem effectively will completely revolutionize the quality of life of Israelis.

• Legal policy:
A new legal revolution
In the 1990s, Supreme Court chief justice Aharon Barak engaged what is now known as the “constitutional revolution,” giving a tremendous amount of power to the courts and limiting the power of elected officials. Courts could now cancel legislation passed by parliament, legislative advisers now had a formal veto power to stop any policy advanced by elected officials, all of this while a nomination process unique to Israel for both judges and legislative advisers caused these to be incredibly unrepresentative of the Israeli population.

This situation is not only unacceptable to all those who believe in democracy and self-determination. It is also untenable as policy makers lose their ability to successfully implement policies.

It is now time for a new legal revolution in Israel, one which will return the power to elected officials and allow them to act as policy makers.

Netanyahu’s fourth government will face challenges coming from all sides: existential threats from enemies, difficult relations with friends and internal problems.

The time ahead will be one of the most challenging in Israel’s recent history, making the current coalition negotiations critical in deciding how Israel will face these challenges.

The writer is an attorney and a former legislative adviser to the Knesset’s coalition chairman; he previously served in a legal capacity at the Foreign Ministry. He is a graduate of McGill University Law School and Hebrew University’s master’s program in public policy.

The article was published on The Jerusalem Post on the 08th of April 2015


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