Israel's electoral system creates governmental impotence

Posted: Apr 05, 2006 12:05 AM
In April 2003, Israel began planning to construct a security fence, effectively surrendering land in an attempt to prevent suicide bombings. In July 2003, Israel pulled troops out of Bethlehem and released several hundred Palestinian Arab terror suspects. In January 2004, Israel freed more than 400 Arab terrorists in return for three Israeli corpses and a kidnapped businessman. In August 2005, Israel threw 7,500 Jews out of their homes in the Gaza Strip and handed over those homes to Palestinian Arabs, who proceeded to torch the area's synagogues. In November 2005, Israel allowed the Palestinian Arabs to open the southern border of the Gaza Strip, allowing free flow of material and population from Egypt.

In October 2005, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called for the destruction of the state of Israel. Thousands of Iranians rallied in the streets in support. Last week, Iran refused to freeze its nuclear program.

In January 2006, the Palestinian Arabs overwhelmingly voted for the terrorist group Hamas in their parliamentary elections. Hamas' charter pledges to fight for the destruction of the state of Israel.

Last week, the Israeli populace responded to these imminent threats by electing to the Prime Minister's office a man who has said not a word about the Iranian threat, a man who has pledged more unilateral withdrawals, a man who seeks to offer yet more concessions to an intractable and single-minded enemy.

Ehud Olmert is that man. His Kadima Party, created by recently incapacitated former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, plans "disengagement" at all costs. Kadima won 28 out of 120 seats in the Israeli Parliament (Knesset).

The appeasement-minded Labor Party finished second in the Israeli elections, garnering 20 seats in Knesset. Center-right Likud, Ariel Sharon's old party before Sharon left to form Kadima, won only 11 seats. The rest of the seats in the Knesset are divided among a hodgepodge of smaller parties with whom Olmert will attempt to create a coalition government.

Why do Israelis continue to sanction inaction and concession in the face of evil? They have no control. In these most perilous of times for the Jewish state, only 63.2 percent of voters turned out for the election; apathy reigns in a place where politicians routinely ignore the wishes of their constituents in favor of government patronage. Over the course of four decades, regardless of the identity of the Prime Minister, Israel has continuously conceded to the wishes of those who would destroy it.

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.