By DONNIEL HARTMAN
Political campaigns are about winning. Politics is about compromise.
Israel’s political process, with its plethora of sub-parties, has a Middle Eastern shuk quality to it, with each group hawking its wares and vying for the electorate’s attention. The frenzy of the shuk atmosphere is fueled by a zero-sum-game reality, whereby each merchant is competing for the buyer’s limited dollar, and each party for the citizen’s vote. A dollar spent in one location, and a vote cast in one direction, is a dollar and a vote taken from one’s competitors.
Israelis have a deep affinity for the multiparty system, for it maintains this shuk consciousness – maximum competition coupled with a maximized system of choice. Each person counts and each person gets to locate his or her vote within the sub-sub-sub party to which they feel at present the greatest affinity.
The challenge of coalition politics within this multiparty system is that while founded on a shuk consciousness, it can only succeed if it transcends it. While in theory there can be a winner in a multiparty election, in the divided reality of Israeli society, the only competition is over size, both objectively and relative to the other parties. We associate the term, "winner," with the party which made the most unexpected gains, and "loser," to those who failed to actualize their or the public’s projections. But in fact, however, there is no winner. Everyone at best gets only a part of a pie that they have to share with their former competition.
A coalition is a form of partnership. While the voting share and influence vary, contingent both on the party’s size and significance for the stability of the coalition, it is a partnership nonetheless. A partnership, however, cannot be created within a shuk mindset and a zero-sum-game attitude. If it is, it will be by definition a limited partnership, limited not by its legal charter, but limited in time and limited in effectiveness.
When a party thinks it has won it either enters into a coalition with an arrogance which insists on the acknowledgement by others of its leadership and power, or stays out of the coalition because such an acknowledgement is not forthcoming.
The future of Israel’s political system and culture is not dependent on changing our multiparty system or raising the threshold for entering the Knesset, but on changing our mindset from a zero-sum game consciousness to one of win-win. Win-win is rarely a quality of reality but rather a decision on how to perceive reality. Win-win becomes possible when one ceases to think in zero-sum game terms and recognizes that the achievement of a part of one’s goals and aspirations is also a win. It is this process which opens the door for the other to attain "their win" alongside yours.
In the aftermath of the election the shuk posturing has already begun: who won’t sit with whom and who will sit with whom only on condition that their demands, A, B, C, and D, will be fulfilled to their fullest. If the shuk analogy falls short, its most apt replacement is that of a cockfight and the posturing which it engenders.
It is time for us all to recognize that none of us has won. More Israelis have chosen Benjamin Netanyahu as Prime Minister than any other alternative; this is really the only significant and legitimate consequence of being the largest party. A majority of Israelis, however, do not want Netanyahu to rule solely on the basis of the Likud Party, its Knesset members, and its platform. While this statement is far from revelatory, its significance is not limited to Benjamin Netanyahu but first and foremost to the other parties within our system. Whether you grew in size or not, whether you beat the expectations or not, all the parties must recognize a simple fact: you did not win, and as such you are obligated to reflect on the compromises that you must be willing to make in order to best serve your constituents.
Compromise is not a consequence of unbridled hunger for power or an unchecked desire for a Cabinet seat and its car; it’s the prerequisite of a partnership and the sense of responsibility to contribute to the future direction of our country. Can Yesh Atid and Shas sit together in a coalition partnership? Certainly. Can the Tenuah and Bayit Hayehudi join forces in one government? Certainly. The difference between "can" and "will" is bridgeable when each understands that the consequence of not winning obligates each to compromise on certain aspects of their core ideologies. That is the prerequisite price of not winning.
The challenge facing Benjamin Netanyahu and in fact the challenge facing our country is to what extent we can field a coalition which is a partnership aimed at serving our country and not a coalition which masks a shuk consciousness that aims to use it as a temporary springboard for the next election, when "we" can win.
In the weeks preceding the election, the rhetoric was naturally vicious and unnecessarily arrogant. The airwaves and social media were filled with voices drunk on the fantasy of winning. The sobriety demanded by not winning is now the call of the day, as we must look across political divides, not in order to disqualify but to engage. One of the lessons of the rabbinic tradition is that compromise is not a compromise but is in fact superior to truth, for the former enables peaceful coexistence and consequently common social life.
We Israelis know how to compromise when there is a grave external threat which spreads an umbrella of necessity over the stain of compromise. Our challenge is to cease to look for an umbrella and to embrace compromise both as the just result of the electoral process and as the highest value of our Zionist aspirations: to live together as one people, safe in our home, and building a society in which the sum total of our parts is a foundation and catalyst for greatness.