Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Yitzhak Rabin's Juggling Act Wheeling and Dealing Convolute Israel's Politics, but Somehow It Manages to Get the Job Done

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Yitzhak Rabin's Juggling Act Wheeling and Dealing Convolute Israel's Politics, but Somehow It Manages to Get the Job Done

Article excerpt

ISRAEL'S unique brand of coalition politics involves a seemingly endless round of horse-trading, dealmaking, and compromising.

"I don't think there is anything quite like it in the world," says a Western diplomat who tracks Israel's domestic politics daily.

"On the one hand, it is an impressive display of democracy. On the other, it is a mingling of indiscipline and near-chaos that makes political consistency and leadership almost impossible," he says.

Rarely a month goes by without Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin distancing himself from one of his minister's statements, clashing with members of his coalition, or threatening to discipline party factions for trying to vote with the opposition.

It has become a tradition for ministers to line up after the Sunday Cabinet meetings and make policy pronouncements that have nothing to do with their portfolios.

Ministers from smaller coalition partners make promises they can't keep, Cabinet disputes are acted out in public, and splinter factions hold the fragile Labor Party coalition ransom with demands ranging from a ban on importing non-Kosher meat to the future of the Golan Heights -- a strategic plateau in Syria occupied by Israel after the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.

"It's a miracle that anything gets done," says Susan Hatis Rolef, author of Israel's premier political dictionary.

Ms. Rolef concedes there is a lack of discipline, but adds that somehow the system keeps going. "The credibility of some politicians is in the dumps, and there is little discipline, but it's been like that for some time," she says, adding that repeated attempts to change the system have failed.

Rabin's Labor Party coalition rules with only 58 of the Knesset's 120 seats. These include the 12 seats of the left-wing Meretz Party and two of the three seats of the Yiud Party, a breakaway from the right-wing Tzomet Party.

The right-wing Likud Party has 32 seats, which swell to 52 seats when legislators from five right-wing parties are included. …

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