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Israel Needs Electoral Reform

Israel Needs Electoral Reform

Under the current style of governance irresponsible politicians like Avigdor Lieberman are able to hold the peace process hostage. (Photo from AP)

As it stands today, Israel’s government is a system of extreme proportional representation.  There is hardly an ethnic minority or political group lacking representation.  While at face value this may seem to be the fairest system, it is in fact a deeply flawed way of governance.  The way it works is the public votes for the party of their choice and the amount of votes that are cast for a party dictates the amount of seats it receives in the Knesset.  In theory, the party with a majority controls the government, however, there hasn’t been a party to win a majority in over 40 years.  While having one party hold a majority of seats can become dangerous for democracy (Turkey is going through this right now), it is still too easy in Israel for small parties to gain significant control in government.  Under Israeli law a party only needs 2% of the votes to be awarded a seat in the Knesset, a number far too low for any kind of government or policy efficiency.  The party that obtains a plurality of seats, whose leader usually is also appointed prime minister, is forced to build a coalition government in order to obtain a majority.  Without going in to too much detail, a severe lack of bi-partisanship and tricky politics limits the Prime Minister’s rationale choices for partners, allowing smaller parties to become overly powerful and dictate certain crucial policies, including those affecting the Israeli-Palestinian situation.  It also means that the Prime Minister’s power is largely muted by his partners and their constituencies; if he does something they don’t like, they’ll just bail on him and the government will fall apart  (religious parties and their settler supporters are just one example that comes to mind).  This system needs a serious makeover.

With the eye of the international community on the rest of the Middle East, the Israeli’s have a unique opportunity to reform without being scrutinized for every word said or policy made.  Electoral reform is crucial for solving the Israeli-Palestinian situation, and in turn the Israeli-Arab conflict.  More independence needs to be given to the Prime Minister.  It is going to take unpopular decisions to come to a resolution with the Palestinians, let alone Hamas, and right now the Prime Minister is unable to withstand such a task.  France was once faced with a similar set of circumstances.  At the end of World War II, a government based on intense proportional representation was established, called the Fourth Republic (1946-1958).  The state found itself in a situation where it was consistently unable to find a party with the ability to capture the majority in an election.  Led by unstable coalitions, the Fourth Republic had 26 governments in 12 years.  Eventually realizing this was unsustainable, France reformed and developed the government that we know today.  What is important about this?  Well, one of the first things the new government was able to do after reform was relieve themselves of their sticky Algerian situation.

 

 

Author

Rob Lattin

Rob Lattin recently completed his Master's in International Affairs at the City College of New York, where he won the Frank Owarish prize for graduating at the top of his class. His thesis explored Democratic Peace Theory and its applicability to small powers, and used the relationship between Turkey and Israel as its case study. Rob received his B.A. in Near Eastern Studies and Political Science, graduating from the University of Arizona with honors.

Rob has traveled extensively throughout the Middle East and has lived in Haifa, Israel. In addition to blogging for FPB, he is the Foreign Affairs Correspondent for Jspace.com. He currently splits his time between Washington D.C. and New York City.

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