Frequent elections solve nothing in Israel

by Eli Vered Hazan

Quite a few Israelis believed that after four elections within two years, redemption would finally come and a government would be formed. But the results of this latest election show, at least at this moment, that what was is exactly what will be, and that if we do not bring about change, then in August this year we will go to the polls for the fifth time in less than two and a half years.

Furthermore, when looking at the election results it is difficult to comprehend how it is possible that the Likud, which Netanyahu heads, won 30 seats (a quarter of the votes), while the second biggest party – Yesh Atid – won fewer than half of the Likud votes and yet the formation of a government seems like an impossible task.

In the past, if we wanted to describe an unstable political system in which elections are held often, we could say “it looks like an Italian political system” or an “Italian style”. There is no doubt that what is happening in Israel has created a new and unprecedented standard, so it is important to understand how this happened.

As in many other Western countries, the political system in Israel is a coalition system. In other words, the winner of the election is the party who manages to get the support of a majority of 61 MKs out of the 120. Unlike in a country like Britain, for example, where it is normal that the party that received the most votes is the one that will form a government alone, in Israel the small parties have a lot of power.

Israeli society is very divided between two political camps and given this situation, the small parties have power. In fact, each of them is a kingmaker in their own way and without them, no government will be formed. That is how, for example, after the fourth election, Netanyahu is dependent on at least three small parties to support him to form a coalition. However, one party is completely rejected by the other two and those two also reject Netanyahu himself as prime minister, even though he was elected in democratic elections by over one hundred thousand Likud members within his party and gained over a million votes in the general election.

Moreover, Prime Minister Netanyahu is on trial while undergoing terrible political persecution. The Israeli Left believes wholeheartedly that Netanyahu is corrupt and guilty. Beside them stand those right-wing parties led by politicians who do not want to replace him because of the trial but because they want to be prime minister out of personal ambitions. On the other side are Netanyahu’s supporters who are unwilling to give him up for two reasons.

Firstly, in Israel, there has been a long-standing struggle between the Left and the Right, and since Netanyahu was re-elected as prime minister in 2009 and brought Israel to its best period in history, it has been very difficult to defeat him. Secondly, in this context, for his supporters, Netanyahu is a symbol. Since his opponents failed to defeat him in democratic elections, they turned to alternative ways. For them, the right-wing parties that oppose Netanyahu are merely a tool of the Left in Israel. 

Arab and Islamist parties are running into the fray. Approximately 20 per cent of the citizens of Israel are non-Jews and most of them are Muslims. Until recently, the parties that represented them in the Knesset – four parties that ran together in the election and were named The Joint List – received 15 seats at the height of their power. However, instead of worrying about the lives of their voters, they supported Palestinian terrorists. They also refused to join any coalition and until they agreed to do so with the left-wing parties in Israel, the latter refused.

Before the recent fourth election, Mansour Abbas – the leader of the Islamist party called Ra’am – changed his approach and decided that he did not belong to any political bloc and that his goal was to advance the public he represented. However, the party he represents supports the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Hamas in the Palestinian Authority. He delivered a historic speech of reconciliation but only a few days later some of his political activists publicly embraced an Israeli Arab terrorist who murdered an innocent Israeli and was released after many years in prison. This has created a very large backlash among right-wing supporters, and we are currently at a dead end.

It should also be remembered: before the election, almost all parties rejected sharing government alongside other parties. For a coalition to be formed, some parties must break some of their promises and they are very reluctant to do so. After all, they remember that Beni Gantz broke a promise not to sit with Netanyahu in a government and after doing so he crashed politically.

Recently, a term has emerged that was previously unforeseen in Israel: a minority government. That is a party that forms a coalition without having a majority of 61MKs but also will not have 61 opponents. This reflects the abnormal situation we have reached.

Therefore, the circumstance in Israel reflects what is happening in many Western countries where the major parties of the past are no longer able to maintain a stable coalition. In Austria, Spain, and the United Kingdom, for example, elections have been held much too frequently in recent years. In Germany, the big parties have been greatly reduced while the Greens are getting stronger so it will be very difficult to form a stable government.

There is no doubt. This dire situation requires finding a new electoral system so that democracies do not fall apart.

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