A Netanyahu-Herzog coalition for Israel

In Israel’s election March 17, the two contenders for prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu and Isaac Herzog, have one thing in common: Both are admirers of Winston Churchill.

Israel could use a Churchill. He wasn’t a great leader just because he gave memorable speeches; he was a great leader because he knew how to govern. Throughout World War II, Churchill worked with a national unity government.

Israel has also been served well with unity governments in times of crisis. The best example was in 1984 when it had to tackle hyperinflation.

No matter how unpopular the reforms, the unity government of Yitzhak Shamir and Shimon Peres meant there would not be an opposing party attacking the plan. This could be a model for solving Israel’s housing crisis since both Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Herzog have agreed to implement the recommendations from State Comptroller Joseph Shapiro’s report.

A national unity government can help reduce the current tensions between Washington and Jerusalem over the Iranian nuclear program and the peace process. The tensions between President Obama and Mr. Netanyahu are mostly based on policy differences over how to deal with these two threats.

Mr. Obama wants to prevent an Iranian nuclear weapon because he thinks it could start an arms race in the Middle East. Mr. Netanyahu fears an Iranian bomb because it could mean the end of Israel. If sanctions and diplomacy do not force Iran to cooperate, Israel may decide the only alternative is military action. Only an Israeli national unity government could convince the Obama administration that Mr. Netanyahu’s concerns are genuinely shared by most Israelis.

A national unity government is also the only way to convince Mr. Obama that the Palestinian leaders are the real obstacle to a two-state solution. The president has largely blamed Israel’s settlement policy for the lack of progress. This is absurd.

A two-state solution means a viable Jewish state next to a Palestinian state. This cannot happen unless Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas accepts that Palestinian refugees can only settle in a Palestinian state or receive compensation. Hamas will never support that. Fatah will need an election mandate and the threat of a complete cutoff of all economic assistance.

The Palestinians have not had a presidential election since 2005 or a parliamentary one since 2006. The United States must cut off all economic assistance to the Palestinian Authority unless it disarms Hamas and other terrorist groups, holds new elections, and completes a two-state agreement within one year.

Polls show that Mr. Netanyahu’s Likud Party and Mr. Herzog’s Zionist Union will receive a combined total of 40 to 45 seats. With centrist parties such as Yesh Atid (14 seats) and Kulanu (9 seats), they could get a majority of 61 seats. After that, minor parties, including the Arab parties and from the left and right, could quickly join them.

Neither Likud nor Zionist Union can achieve a large enough majority to keep the government stable. Negotiating a two-state solution will require a majority large enough so that no minor party can collapse the government and call for new elections.

The Arab parties in a national unity government could also help tackle some of Israel’s domestic problems. For example, 10 percent of Israelis are ultra-Orthodox Jews and fewer than half of these work. Within 20 years, these Haredim could become as much as 20 percent of the population because of their high birthrate.

Throughout the years, religious parties such as Shas have worked with Israeli prime ministers for a price. They provided their votes in exchange for government welfare for their constituents and exemption from military service.

Convincing these religious parties to cut welfare and train the Haredim to work in a modern economy can be done only with a national unity government. Otherwise, Israel’s economy will stagnate and welfare costs will rise.

Israel needs a prime minister as tough as Mr. Netanyahu on the Islamic threat, but it also needs a positive agenda that can unite Israelis. Mr. Herzog can help provide this.
David Ben-Gurion, wrote in his memoirs, “We emigrated not for negative reasons of escape but for the positive purpose of rebuilding a homeland.” He left Poland in 1906. This was decades before the Holocaust. His life is a reminder of why Israel’s national anthem is titled “Hatikvah” (Hope). It is this hope that can get Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Herzog to work together and save Israel.

Peter Hannaford was closely associated with the late President Reagan. Robert Zapesochny is a researcher on the Middle East.

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