The discouraging first 100 days of the Netanyahu government

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called on American Jews to oppose the Iran nuclear deal in a web address Tuesday afternoon.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

With a far less polarized and more right-wing government than any of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s last three governments, it was expected the first 100 days of the current administration would bring good tidings. Now, just weeks after the completion of its first 100 days, it is clear the government failed to develop a comprehensive vision.

Why do we focus on 100 days?

The term “First 100 Days” first measured the success of a new administration in 1933 in the United States, when Franklin Delano Roosevelt rolled out his “New Deal” program. The quick success of this program became the gold standard of success for future presidents.

During the first 100 days of his first term, U.S. President Barack Obama passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act—a dramatic economic stimulus package of $787 billion—and put forward the ambitious goal of overhauling the American health care system. Obama also announced his intention to withdraw American forces from Iraq and to promote wage equality for women. At the end of 100 days, Obama’s job approval rating was 65 percent—an unprecedented rate of support among the American public.

In the United Kingdom, David Cameron’s first government (2010-2015) spent its first 100 days designing a five-year plan that included extensive reforms to education, welfare, health and economics. Similarly, Angela Merkel’s third government in Germany (from 2013), succeeded in setting major strategic goals in the areas of pensions, jobs, housing and green energy in its first 100 days.

Just like we did with Roosevelt, Obama and Cameron, at the end of Netanyahu’s first 100 days, we should be able to discuss a new strategic plan for the State of Israel. At the very least, the prime minister should have defined a minimum of two overarching strategic goals for his cabinet. But at the end of the first 100 days of the present government, it is clear there is no guiding hand that can implement broad strategic objectives across government ministries.

When an elected leader is re-elected for an additional term, his or her policy usually stresses continuity and perseverance, aims to achieve or promote the vision put forward in the previous term. In the work of the current Israeli government, not only isn’t there continuity of the main policy lines of the previous government, but also the dissolution of a number of legislative reforms that had been enacted by the previous government:

  • The conversion reform was canceled.
  • The “equal sharing of the burden” law regulating the military service of the ultra-Orthodox is being undone.
  • Plans by the previous Minister of Housing and Minister of Finance were thwarted.

Netanyahu likely already understood it would not be wise to present a comprehensive long-term vision, since unless there is significant political reform, it will be impossible to realize such a vision.

In Israel, a government that is relatively homogeneous is in actuality very narrow. The political system does not facilitate governance or allow the prime minister to function. This is why the current government did not – could not – present a strategic vision by the end of its first 100 days.

In less than 265 days, on the first anniversary of the current government, it will be interesting to see if the government has succeeded in advancing any significant goals, despite its slow start in the first 100 days.

It will be equally interesting to check whether Netanyahu has succeeded in advancing the central reform that he championed in his very first address of this term, when the government was sworn in: Political reform aimed at increasing governance. This type of reform, which looks toward the future, can restore our faith that there will be more promising first 100 days in the future.

Yohanan Plesner is president of the Israel Democracy Institute.

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