On June 6, 2007, Likud chairman Benjamin Netanyahu was interviewed by Victoria Vexelman of the Russian Channel-7. I have an English rendering of excerpts of that interview and will comment on Netanyahu’s stated position on key issues.
Vexelman asked Netanyahu: “What is your attitude to the idea of a law to extend Israel’s sovereignty on those territories where there is no Arab population?”1 [Vexelman apparently has in mind Israeli annexation of those areas of Judea and Samaria where Jewish communities are located, as well as those areas of Judea and Samaria where neither Jews nor Arabs are located. Jewish sovereignty over these areas would preclude the establishment of a Palestinian state.]
Netanyahu ducked the issue. He replied that he would exhaust the possibility of replacing Hamas with partners willing to conduct peaceful negotiations. He would not negotiate with those who call for Israel’s destruction.
How reassuring, until we recall Netanyahu’s campaign for the premiership in 1996, when he led the voters to believe he would not negotiate with PLO chief Yasser Arafat. Yet, soon after his election, he began to negotiate with that implacable and genocidal enemy of the Jewish people. Indeed, he subsequently gave 40% of Judea and Samaria to Arafat.
But the point to be emphasized is that Netanyahu’s answer suggests he is not opposed, in principle, to yielding more of Judea and Samaria to the Palestinian Authority. This suggests that he is not opposed, in principle, to the establishment of a Palestinian state, hence to the expulsion of countless Jews from the heartland of the Jewish people. After all, he voted for the expulsion of 8,000 Jews from Gaza when he served in the Sharon government.
Returning to the interview, Vexelman, asked Netanyahu about the dilemmas involved in coalition governments consisting of rival parties. She prefaced her question by making the following observations.
First, she said that in such governments, “each leader of a coalition party behaves as if he were a prime minister of some sort.”
Second, she said “There is no direct connection between the voters and their [so-called] representatives.” [In other words, MKs are not individually elected by or accountable to voters in constituency elections.] This system, she continued, enabled Sharon to bribe or twist the arms of 22 Likud MKs to vote for unilateral disengagement and thereby betray countless thousands of voters in the nationalist camp.
She then asked Netanyahu, “Do you still think the political system that made this possible is still relevant? Don’t you think it’s time to reform the electoral and political system?”
To this Netanyahu replied: “I do not think there is a need in changing the electoral system. Suppose, we introduce a presidential system. A president will come and will do whatever he pleases.”
Netanyahu’s response is disingenuous or sheer nonsense. A president of the United States is checked by two houses of Congress, either one of which can thwart his policies. We see this happening today, when the Democrats, now in control of both houses of Congress, are calling for the withdrawal of American forces from Iraq contrary to the policy of Republican president Bush. And if Congress cuts off military spending, Bush can do nothing about it.
Doesn’t Netanyahu, who was educated in the United States, know this? Doesn’t he know that, under the American Constitution, treaties concluded by the president must be approved by a two-thirds vote of the Senate, whereas in Israel the prime minister does not require, by any law, Knesset ratification of agreements with any foreign state or entity?
Indeed, I have shown that a prime minister of Israel has more power than the American president in domestic affairs because his cabinet coalition dominates the Knesset. No Likud prime minister and no Labor prime minister—and this may well apply to Kadima prime minister Ehud Olmert—has ever been toppled by a Knesset vote of no confidence. Unlike an American president, no Israeli prime minister has ever had to face a legislature dominated by a single opposition party.
If Netanyahu is not being disingenuous, then he is suffering from colossal ignorance. By the way, some years ago I was present at a meeting with Netanyahu when he expressed support for a presidential system of government—and its necessity then was less obvious than now.
In any event, Vexelman responded to Netanyahu by saying, “We are not talking now of a presidential system of government. We are talking of district elections.”
To this Netanyahu replied: “District elections won’t help either. Under the system of district elections each Knesset Member will be responsible only before his own small group of voters. Thus, we’ll get 60 parties.”
Netanyahu’s response is sheer gibberish. There are 435 members of the U.S. House of Representatives. They represent 435 districts. Yet the House has only two political parties. Besides, many countries—including England, Canada, and Australia—which Netanyahu is surely familiar with, have district elections, but have only a few political parties. In fact, 26 countries, smaller in size and population than Israel. have district elections, yet each has fewer parties than Israel!
By the way, an American congressman would deem it insulting to say he merely represents a small group of voters or a local district in contradistinction to the nation as a whole. Such an accusation may well be applied to Israel, whose system of proportional representation with an electoral threshold of merely 2 percent spawns a welter of parties that represent small groups of voters.
On the other hand, what’s wrong with representing a local district? The United States is the freest, wealthiest, and most powerful nation on earth, thanks largely to a Constitution that prescribes a presidential system of government on the one hand, checked and balanced by a congress based on district elections on the other. And both institutions, by the way, are consistent with Jewish principles of government.
Netanyahu nonetheless avowed that “The key is not in changing the system. Some changes,” he admitted, “may be introduced. But the key element is in electing the right leaders, with a clear program and position.”
Now, it’s true, as he said, that “not a single system can eliminate the problem of a wrong choice [of national leader].” The American founding fathers understood this quite well. But unlike Netanyahu, they saw that well-designed institutions can minimize the evil consequences of a wrong choice of leaders on the one hand, and increase the probability of making a good choice on the other.
In Israel, however, so long as citizens are compelled to vote for party slates instead of individual candidates, the probability of obtaining inept leaders is magnified. The voters in Israel don’t know which parties are going to form the government coalition. Hence they don’t know what will be the policies of that government. Even if a major party had a clear program, it doesn’t follow it will be able to implement that program under Israel’s system of multi-party cabinet government.
Now I ask: When Netanyahu campaigned for the premiership in 1996, did he have a clear position on negotiating with Arafat, the godfather of international terrorism? Whatever the answer, he had seven rival parties in his cabinet which shortened his term of office to two years.
If there is any clarity in his position regarding Judea and Samaria, I can only surmise it means further shrinkage of the Jewish homeland. This suggests that Netanyahu may not be adamantly opposed to a two-state solution to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
As usual, Netanyahu, the man with a golden tongue and chronic clay feet, dug a deeper pit for himself when he said to his interviewer: “We do not necessarily have to agree [with a leader] about everything, but we must judge him by matters of principle: whether the leader keeps his word, whether he has an attachment to the Land of Israel, to our tradition and history, whether he builds his policy on the basis of strength or weakness.”
These pleasing platitudes convict Netanyahu of being an unprincipled politician.
Like all members of his Likud party (except Naomi Blumenthal), he voted against a bill to abrogate the Israel-PLO Agreement despite its having been violated countless times by Arafat.* And whereas he voted, as a cabinet minister, for the expulsion of 10,000 Jews from Gaza and northern Samaria, he abstained from the Knesset vote on that issue. This indicates that Netanyahu, in his own words, has no firm and abiding “attachment to the Land of Israel, and to our tradition and history.”
I challenge Mr. Netanyahu to debate these issues with me in public. I further challenge him to state unequivocally whether he supports a two-state solution to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
1 According to Amendment 11B of Israel’s Law and Administration Ordinance of 1967, the government can bring any area under the control of the IDF within the jurisdiction of the State and thus make Israeli law applicable even to the Arab inhabitants of Judea and Samaria (as was done in eastern Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, respectively, in 1980 and 1981). Amendment 11B only affirmed what had been decided by Israel’s Provisional Council of the State when the latter enacted, on September 16, 1948, a law entitled “Area of Jurisdiction and Powers Ordinance.” This ordinance authorizes the government to apply Israeli law to any area of the Land of Israel that had come under the control of the IDF and which was not previously included within the jurisdiction of the State. See “The Howard Grief Eretz-Israel Letters to Meir Shamgar, 2005-2007,” The Office for Israeli Constitutional Law, May 2007. (Shamgar is a president emeritus of Israel’s Supreme Court.)
* A Correction
In “An Interview with Benjamin Netanyahu,” I mistakenly said that he voted against a resolution in the Knesset to abrogate the Oslo Agreement (of September 13, 1993). Here are the facts.
On July 11, 2001, MK Michael Kleiner (Herut) submitted Knesset Law/28933 to void the Oslo, Hebron and Wye Agreements. Netahyahu was not an MK at this time, but he most certainly opposed Kleiner’s resolution—and not only because Netanyahu was himself the architect of the Hebron and Wye Agreements. An explanation follows.
A few months before the June 1992 elections, a Likud conference was held and elected Mr. Netanyahu its party chairman. During the conference, a resolution was introduced to the effect that a future Likud government would not abide by any agreement entered into (by a Labor government) that compromised Israel’s security. Netanyahu opposed that resolution on the fallacious grounds that a democracy must abide by its international agreements.
There is nothing in democratic theory, nothing in international law, nothing in the history of nations, and nothing in common sense that supports Netanyahu’s position.
But mark this well. While he was prime minister, Netanyahu failed to abrogate the Oslo Agreement even though his own office issued daily reports that the Agreement was being repeatedly violated by the PLO. Indeed, the PLO was continually committing acts of terrorism, killing Jews, and undermining Israel’s security.
No self-respecting nation abides by an agreement constantly violated by the other party to that agreement; and no prime minister with a stitch of courage would do so.