Israel Contemplates a 2-Party System

News is reaching American shores that Benjamin Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman are merging their two parties, Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu, to form a new broad-based right-wing coalition. This is a reaction, obviously, to so-far fruitless negotiations by various centrists and left-centrists who are considering a merger to present a unified front against Netanyahu. In other words, despite the dispositional fractiousness of Israeli politics, it is not inconceivable that Israel will see two very large parties battling it out for dominance of the Knesset and of Israeli politics, instead of four or five. Now, the two-party system doesn't work so well for us anymore, but its adoption in Israel (or re-adoption; Likud and Labor were once often dominant simultaneously)  would be a good thing; it would force compromise inside factions and it would marginalize ephemeral, single-issue parties.

Now of course even if two large parties, right and center (I wouldn't go so far as to call the creature that could emerge from negotiations among Yair Lapid, Tzipi Livni, Ehud Olmert, etc. a left-wing party) are formed, there will still be the Orthodox parties to contend with, but here's my fantasy: A unity government of the mainly secular Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu party and a new, mostly secular centrist party that would have the votes to actually make progress on synagogue-state separation issues. Israel can't afford to subsidize the ultra-Orthodox sector anymore, and the Orthodox parties have been granted much too much social and religious power. Secular and non-Orthodox Israelis have to take a stand against creeping fundamentalism (galloping fundamentalism, actually). This may be the best chance, and it may be the last chance. I'm not hopeful, because, why be hopeful? But there's a chance.

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Jeffrey Goldberg is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and a recipient of the National Magazine Award for Reporting. He is the author of Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror. More

Before joining The Atlantic in 2007, Goldberg was a Middle East correspondent, and the Washington correspondent, for The New Yorker. He was previouslly a correspondent for The New York Times Magazine and New York magazine. He has also written for the Jewish Daily Forward and was a columnist for The Jerusalem Post.

Goldberg's book Prisoners was hailed as one of the best books of 2006 by the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Slate, The Progressive, Washingtonian magazine, and Playboy. He received the 2003 National Magazine Award for Reporting for his coverage of Islamic terrorism and the 2005 Anti-Defamation League Daniel Pearl Prize. He is also the winner of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists prize for best international investigative journalist; the Overseas Press Club award for best human-rights reporting; and the Abraham Cahan Prize in Journalism.

In 2001, Goldberg was appointed the Syrkin Fellow in Letters of the Jerusalem Foundation, and in 2002 he became a public-policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.

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