Although Golda Meir never wore pants, her admirers used to call her "the only man in the cabinet." Tzipi Livni actually wears pants quite often, but our macho politicians have taken out a contract on her for being "unworthy." Despite the personal battle being waged against her, last night Livni herself was optimistic. It's unclear whether that feeling stemmed from a sense of feminine instinct or was the result of an internal Kadima survey that gave her an edge, but she feels that she will defeat Likud.
Yet the problem lies not with Livni's instincts but with Israel's distorted election system. In the past there was a central party - Mapai, the forerunner of Labor - which ensured near autocracy for David Ben-Gurion in the years it was shaping the state's image. Later on, two parties squared off - Mapai versus Herut. For years there was a split between the left and the right. In 1977, the torch passed to Likud, and from 1981 to 1992 the two blocs stood opposite each other.
In time, the political arena turned into a hodgepodge of continuously splitting amoebas. There were 28 party lists in the elections for the 16th Knesset. For the 17th Knesset, whose term is now ending, no fewer than 31 parties competed. About a quarter of a million votes were lost to these small parties that failed to pass the electoral threshold -- a total of nine Knesset seats.
There is a popular American saying that any child can become president. But from the moment he takes on the job, the American leader rules for at least four years, with a system of checks and balances administered by Congress. If he performs badly, in the worst case he will not be reelected. Great Britain's prime minister and Germany's chancellor most certainly won't remain in power thanks to a Mitsubishi, as happened here in 1995, when Yitzhak Rabin persuaded two far-right MKs to join his government for which a ministry and deputy ministership, including government Mitsubishis. Those countries maintain government stability because their leaders are chosen from among a small handful of parties. In multi-party Italy, parties rise and fall for nonsensical reasons, whereas in Israel a government fell because Yitzhak Rabin allowed new fighter planes to land after the beginning of Shabbat.
Anyone counting the number of lists competing for the 18th Knesset can assert that democracy is running wild. The political split prevents the establishment of large blocs. What is the difference between Labor and Meretz? And between Shelly Yachimovich and Zahava Gal-On? Parties attack one another, even when it is not clear why they are not part of the same group. The only thing that separates Shas from United Torah Judaism, for example, is that the former are Mizrahim (of North African or Middle Eastern origin) and the latter are Ashkenazim (of European origin), and in any case, in the end, the one who makes the decision is Rabbi Elyashiv. Why shouldn't they be on the same list? Or take, for example, the Arab citizens of Israel, who - were it not for the split among them - could bring 16-20 MKs into the Knesset. There is no reason why the political sector should not be based on five parties: the religious, the Arabs, the right, the left and the center. Whatever the results of today's elections, it is clear that the system is screwed up.
It's important to find a system that will give the prime minister a solid majority with which to work, instead of his having to devote part of his time to political survival. That is how Kadima was established, because of 13 rebels in Likud. The rise of Avigdor Lieberman is the result of Benjamin Netanyahu's maneuver of moving toward the center. If Lieberman occupies third place in the opinion polls, he is liable to end up in first place as well - as an inevitable result of Arthur Finkelstein's theory regarding the "two beats" of the Israeli voter: fear and hatred. What Lieberman says about the Arabs and their loyalty, no Joerg Haider nor other Western politician dare say about their countries' Jewish citizens. In any case, if it is true that the police are launching an investigation into Lieberman on suspicion of money laundering, it's not certain he will be able to serve as a minister, and then you suddenly have the extremist Uzi Landau in the minister's chair.
If in today's election but a hair's breadth separates Netanyahu and Livni, we can once again try the rotation system, which worked quite successfully between Yitzhak Shamir and Shimon Peres (they reduced inflation by hundreds of percentage points and brought the war in Lebanon to an end). But rotation is a one-time solution, and the attempt to move to a system of directly electing the prime minister also failed. One of the first tasks of the new government and Knesset is to establish a state commission to effect a profound change in the election system, and, firstly, an increase of the entry threshold.
With all our existential problems, we cannot permit ourselves to be ruled like a banana republic.
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