The present writer is repeatedly asked to discuss the pernicious character of Israel’s system of multiparty cabinet government. Many concerned citizens appalled by a political system in which the cabinet consists of the leaders of five or six or more rival political parties.
It is obvious to my interlocutors that the leaders of such a cabinet, far from being animated by a coherent, resolute, and long-term national program, are primarily motivated by their own personal and partisan interests, which means they compete with each other for political power and a larger share of the public treasury. This self-aggrandizement fosters public cynicism, which of course undermines the people’s confidence in their government.
What is not widely known, however, is that multiparty cabinet government also conduces to treason. To illustrate, let us go back to 1988. A so-called National Unity Government was then in power. The coalition agreement specified that Likud chairman Moshe Shamir would hold the post of Prime Minister for the first two years of the Government’s tenure, that Labor chairman Shimon Peres would be PM for the second two years, and that during Shamir’s tenure, Peres would hold the post of Finance Minister.
Bearing this in mind, let us now recall certain heated altercations that took place in an August 1989 session of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. MK Uzi Landau (Likud) raised the subject of Finance Minister Peres’ activities abroad. Said Landau: “Peres is starting once more to conduct an independent foreign policy, as he did in the previous government” (Ma’ariv, August 1, 1989). (Peres advocated a Middle East peace conference which Shamir deemed suicidal, but which came to pass in Madrid on October 31, 1991. That conference eventually led, via Washington, D.C., to Oslo the Israel-PLO Agreement of September 13, 1993.)
Returning to Landau’s complaint: Mr. Pewres, without cabinet approval, had met in Europe with Soviet Middle East “roving ambassador” Gennadiy Terasov, who had just met with PLO chief Yasser Arafat. Evidently, Terasov was acting as an intermediary between Peres and Arafat in what has come to be known as “proximity talks.” Such talks served to circumvent the law prohibiting Israelis from meeting with members of the PLO (as happened in Oslo).
Mr. Landau wanted to know whether Foreign Minister Moshe Arens (Likud) had been informed about the Peres-Terasov meeting. Arens replied that he is opposed to such meetings, but that by the time he had protested to Prime Minister Shamir, the unauthorized tête-à-tête had taken place.
A related objection was raised against certain public statements by Deputy Finance Minister Yossi Beilin (Labor). Mr. Beilin, otherwise known as “Peres’ poodle,” had repeatedly called for direct talks with the PLO, thus undermining the Government’s negotiating position vis-à-vis the United States on this issue. Mr. Shamir declared that he would confront Peres about these statements. (If Shamir followed through on the matter, nothing came of it.)
Turn, now, to a heated exchange between Prime Minister Shamir and MK Yossi Sarid (Shinui). Reacting to Mr. Shamir’s denunciation of politicians who undermine the efforts of the Government to prevent the establishment of a “Palestinian” state, Sarid shouted: “I hear you talking about traitors and defeatists. In which country is it heard that a prime minister speaks in such a manner about publicly elected personalities who are his political rivals, calling them traitors?” (ibid.)
To this Shamir responded: “I see documents and from them I learn that there are those amongst us who talk about peace but practice treason. I know very well how to distinguish between opponents and traitors” (ibid.).
Mr. Shamir’s reference to “documents” is most revealing. He was alluding not to newspaper reports of political statements made by various left-wing MKs, but rather to intelligence reports which ascribed to these MKs certain clandestine and treasonable activities, reports furnished Shamir by intelligence agencies such as the Mossad (which is directly under the Prime Minister’s authority).
In any event, if Mr. Shamir had documentary evidence showing that various cabinet ministers and/or members of the Knesset were guilty of treasonable activity, it was his duty to bring this evidence to the attention of the Minister of Justice and the Attorney-General. And if the evidence so warranted, the accused should have been indicted for treason against the State of Israel. No such indictments were ever issued.
What conclusions may be drawn from this state of affairs? They are painfully obvious. The Government of Israel is not based on the rule of law so much as on the rule of men. Abuse of power on the one hand, and failure to uphold the law on the other, is the norm of political life in Israel.
Hence, it is not simply the disastrous policies of the Government which need to be changed. What also needs to be changed—radically changed—are the politicians who make these policies and the political system that entrenches them in power.
This is not a question of enlightening these politicians by constructive criticism. We are dealing here with men devoid of principle, as well as with men who lack the courage of their convictions, that is, with individuals who put personal and partisan interests above the national interest.
These men are part and parcel of a political system—multiparty cabinet government—that fosters self-aggrandizement and even treason.
To clinch the point, consider the following. While Shamir was Prime Minister, the Labor Party submitted an Egyptian peace plan to a vote of the cabinet, a plan that would eventuate in the establishment of a “Palestinian” state! Prime Minister Shamir had enough presence of mind to remark how incredible it is that “Israel has cabinet ministers who actually represent foreign governments.”