It's easy to ruin the system of government
Israel's system of government functions poorly and is in need of serious surgery. Yet we must be careful not to make the cure worse than the illness, by administering the wrong medicine.
There is no disagreement about the need to reform Israel's system of government. The coalition agreement between Likud and Labor says in clause 63: "A permanent committee will be created to examine governmental reforms, in which every faction will be represented."
This represents a ray of hope. However, there is also a risk that "improvements" that have not been carefully considered will be adopted. Anyone who thinks it is impossible to make the system any worse is simply wrong. Moreover, most of the proposals bandied about in public, and which garner signatures of support from prominent figures in advertisements, do not meet professional standards.
First of all, it is necessary to establish criteria that would serve as the basis for evaluating proposals to change the system of government. And the first criterion that should be adopted is that any change must ensure the democratic principle of representation. Israel is home to a diverse society that is still developing. The state is also facing highly controversial decisions. It is therefore vital to preserve the legitimacy of the government and prevent disaffection. Thus we must ensure that a situation does not arise in which large parts of society view themselves as unrepresented due to the electoral system.
A second criterion is the ability to govern - or in other words, the ability to concentrate democratic authority, which is what enables governments to make and execute decisions on controversial issues.
A third criterion is the quality of the administration. Namely, we must ensure the quality of both senior politicians and the young forces entering politics from which the future leadership will sprout.
A fourth criterion is stability. Yet stability is not an advantage if the government is incapable of ruling or if it is of inferior quality. It would be preferable for such a government to fall as quickly as possible.
When one examines the principal recommendations for improving the system of government, it is clear that they do not meet these criteria.
* Personal, district-based elections. That sounds nice, but if the rule is "winner takes all" - without which there would be no point - then proportional representation would suffer, and hence the government's legitimacy. In addition, party discipline would be undermined, which would further reduce the stability of Israel's system of governance. Local considerations would receive greater weight, at the expense of more important national interests. And finally, there is no basis for the assumption that most districts would elect high-quality candidates, because "vote contracting" is pervasive in many areas.
* Raising the electoral threshold for entering the Knesset. This would enhance neither the government's quality, its ability to rule nor its stability, since the multiplicity of parties is not the cause of our governmental problems. Moreover, this constitutional "trick" would result in more demographics viewing themselves as unrepresented, which would harm the government's legitimacy.
* Assigning the task of forming a government to the head of the largest party. This proposal is untenable, as was plainly seen in the last elections. And it contributes nothing to any of the four criteria.
* Adopting a multiyear budget to stifle coalition extortion. This proposal has no professional merit. Experience in other countries casts great doubt on the wisdom of multiyear budgets, except in a few specific areas, due to economic and financial uncertainty and instability. There is certainly room for budgetary reform, such as combining budget and policy planning. But the use of the term "extortion" in relation to factions' legitimate efforts to advance their principles and interests connotes a misunderstanding of political and democratic processes, in which "give and take" is both legitimate and essential.
* The Norwegian arrangement. This system, in which ministers resign from the legislature upon taking office, undermines the principle of the cabinet-parliamentary regime that is now in place in Israel, one in which ministers take part in what occurs in the legislature. The proposal also increases the likelihood of a hostile Knesset, which would further undermine the ability to govern. Governmental arrangements should not be blindly carbon-copied from country to country without considering differences in politics, culture and the structure of government, all of which vary drastically between Israel and Norway.
Israel's system of government indeed functions poorly and is in need of serious surgery. Yet we must be careful not to make the cure worse than the illness, by administering the wrong medicine. We must not rush to support proposals on complex issues without seriously studying them first.