There is a reason for such continuity of inane policy over time: Israel's system of government is deeply flawed. The coalition government system means that only the most middle-of-the-road policies are pursued, even in the face of terrorism. The system means that the clearest of popular mandates still leaves political actors with their hands tied -- no political party has ever won a clear majority in the Knesset. When political actors attempt to take hard-line stands, their coalitions fall apart. Aside from Likud Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir (1986-1992), no Israeli Prime Minister of the last twenty-plus years has served a full term, and even Shamir was forced to reshuffle his coalition government mid-term. Instability in governance breeds unprincipled leadership. In order to get anything done, leaders must have power; in order to maintain power in Israel, leaders must get nothing done.
This basic problem in governmental structure is amplified by Israel's "list" system for parties. Parties internally create ranked lists of members who will serve in the Knesset based on how many seats the party gets. For example, if Likud ranks Natan Sharansky 11th, and Likud wins 10 seats, Sharansky is out of the Knesset. The list system means that only those party members who can garner the support of the party leadership will ever win seats within the Knesset; if those who oppose the party leadership want to gain power, they usually start their own parties. Starting an independent party is not difficult, either, since a party may sit in the Knesset by winning only two percent of the vote. And so parties proliferate, destabilizing coalitions and broadening policy.
Ariel Sharon, who campaigned as the ultimate hawk, was directly elected with 62.5 percent of the vote in 2001. To maintain power, Sharon had to form a broad national coalition after his 2001 election, and then call for early elections in 2003 and form a new center-right coalition. Finally, Sharon called for new elections again and created the Kadima Party. Throughout his tenure, Sharon never governed as he had campaigned. Now, his successor will attempt to follow in his footsteps. Within three years, his government, too, will collapse. The cycle will continue. And Israelis will continue to suffer, no matter how they vote.
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