JERUSALEM, Israel -- Debate among Israelis is practically a national sport. Tuesday's announcement of the newly formed unity government has generated no small amount of response.
Political analysts from right, left and center -- religious and secular -- speculated on how a stable coalition with a 94-member majority could make real progress on some of the most complex issues -- domestic and foreign -- facing the nation.
In Tuesday's joint press conference at the Knesset, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Kadima Party chairman MK Shaul Mofaz outlined some of the priorities the new government plans to address between now and the next general elections in October 2013.
While a nuclear-armed Iran didn't take center stage, it has been high on Netanyahu's agenda for years. With the addition of Mofaz, three former IDF chiefs of staff now sit in the seven-member security cabinet -- ample evidence that Israel's response to the Iranian threat will continue to top the agenda.
Aside from Iran, there's no lack of complex domestic issues needing real solutions, including, but not limited to, the economy, the electoral system, compulsory military service and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
While Netanyahu has helped steer the country through the economic meltdown facing E.U. member nations, notably Greece, France and Spain, the average Israeli family is finding it increasingly difficult to make ends meet. Those issues must be addressed in a comprehensive and fair state budget.
Developing an alternative to the Tal Law, thereby ending blanket exemption of thousands of young ultra-Orthodox Jews from serving either in the military or in some type of alternative national service, is also high on the agenda. Along with that, finding a balance in the role of the Chief Rabbinate, which currently holds a monopoly on such basic issues as marriage, conversion and even burial, must be addressed.
The Knesset must also implement electoral reform that will allow genuine discourse by all members of society without the constant threat of no-confidence votes aimed at bringing down the government.
And, of course, trying to woo the Palestinian Authority back to direct talks without preconditions remains a top priority. Israel must find a way to break through the rhetoric blaming Israel for the stalemate and launch genuine discussions. Just yesterday, the P.A. announced a new public relations campaign to expose how Israeli intransigence has prevented genuine discourse -- though the Palestinians refuse to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
The hope is that a stable coalition will have broader resources to address the multi-faceted issues facing the Jewish state. Navigating through rising anti-Israel sentiment is no small task today.
Israel is a melting pot. In the 64 years since its reestablishment as a modern nation-state, it has absorbed millions of immigrants from all over the world, growing from 800,000 in 1948 to nearly 7,800,000 today.
It has also fought seven wars, surrounded and vastly outnumbered by openly hostile Arab countries and now faces a nuclear-armed Iranian regime vowing its destruction.
Yet with all these complex issues, Israelis remain optimistic and determined to find real solutions to the many problems it faces. Most are hoping that bridging the gaps in such a diverse society will be more possible with a stable, broad coalition. Let's hope so.