In the classic model of parliamentary democracy, general elections, in which the parliament is elected, are held periodically. The elected parliament confirms the government formed after the elections. And from then until the next general elections, as long as the government retains the confidence of parliament, decisions are taken by the government, laws are legislated by parliament, and government decisions are sanctioned by parliament.
Government decisions as well as decisions in parliament are taken by majority vote. That is the way it is supposed to work. But not in Israel! When the majority needed to support a certain decision the prime minister is sponsoring is unavailable, measures are sometimes taken to obtain this majority by other means.
The prime minister has been promoting his plan for unilateral withdrawal for some time. He announced the plan at the Caesarea conference many months ago. He went to Washington to obtain the American president's endorsement of his plan. And yet it was clear the plan did not have the support of the majority of his cabinet and of the Knesset. The first obstacle was the cabinet, and specifically the Likud ministers who were opposed to the plan. Rather than taking the time to try and convince a number of his Likud colleagues in the cabinet of the merits of his plan, the prime minister landed on a "brilliant" idea: he would force the hand of the Likud ministers by bypassing them and holding a referendum on the plan among the country's Likud members. This most unconventional expedient was expected to fix everything. The majority of Likud members would vote for the prime minister's plan, and Likud ministers and Knesset members would be obligated to follow the decision adopted by their constituency. To make sure Likud ministers and Knesset members understood fully the obligation they would be under after the referendum, the prime minister announced to the assembled Likud convention members, that he, like all the others, would be bound by the result of the referendum. And the Likud ministers fell in line and announced they would be bound by the result of the referendum.
But the Likud members overwhelmingly rejected the prime minister's plan. Was that the end of it? Not by any means. You can call me a liar, the prime minister said in effect, but I am going ahead with the plan. The country is more important than the party. Presumably, his party, the Likud, did not have the best interests of the country at heart. Calling the referendum was a mistake, the prime minister said, but this is no reason not to do what is right for the country.
The pollsters were called in to justify this position. By telephone calls to 500 Israeli residents it was "proved" that the majority of Likud voters actually supported the prime minister's plan, thus making the Likud referendum irrelevant. Other polls "proved" the majority of Israel's citizens supported the plan, so the prime minister could claim he was acting in the name of the majority of the population. After all, nothing could be more democratic than that. Who needs a parliament when telephone calls to 500 citizens can gauge the mood of the people?
But the prime minister still needed cabinet approval to execute his plan. No advanced mathematics was required to conclude that a majority for his plan could be obtained in the cabinet by firing some of the ministers who opposed his plan. Although the prime minister has the authority by law to rid himself of a minister, the law was not intended for this purpose. Armed with this power, if used for illegitimate purposes, the prime minister can ram anything he desires through the cabinet. No need to debate issues, no need to convince, just threaten to fire, and carry out the threat if the threat is not sufficient.
No need to explain that this is turning democratic government into a farce. If the extraordinary measures the prime minister has been taking in promoting his plan become precedents to be used in the future, Israeli democracy will truly be in danger. This reinvention of democracy can't be good for the country.
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