Benjamin Netanyahu, Tzipi Livni and Ehud Barak have more than a few faults. But one fact cannot be disputed. Netanyahu, Livni and Barak are immeasurably better than the parties they lead.
Netanyahu is a fig leaf for people such as Lea Nass, Gila Gamliel and Moshe Feiglin. Livni is a fig leaf for Ruhama Avraham Balila, Yoel Hasson and Eli Aflalo. Barak is a fig leaf for Benjamin Ben-Eliezer. Despite all their faults and flaws, the three prime ministerial contenders are Gullivers in comparison to the Lilliputians in their parties.
Israel's election method is doubly distorted. The first distortion is that the election system is individual, while voting is by party. As a result, we are obsessed by every line and pore in the face of the front-runner, while failing to notice we are granting the political power to a semi-anonymous bunch that will not allow him or her to lead. The second distortion is that the system is based on elections within the party that do not reflect the wishes and characteristics of the vast majority of the public that does not belong to a political party. As a result, most of the parties send to the Knesset public representatives who are not public trustees but rather professional party hacks, representatives of various vested interests or figures with a radical agenda.
The current electoral system is thoroughly in the style of the United States. It focuses not on the parties but rather on the three candidates. But there is no connection whatsoever between the American election campaign and Israel's system of government. The choice between John McCain and Barack Obama is significant because it turns one of them into the head of the executive branch of the government. The choice among Netanyahu, Livni and Barak, in contrast, is artificial because in practice it is Likud, Kadima or Labor that will control the government.
These distortions amplify each other. On one hand, the question of what is Likud, Kadima and Labor are barely asked during the campaign. It's not sexy. On the other hand, what determines the conduct of these three parties from one election to another is the internal horse trading which often borders on corruption.
The result is staring us in the face. Parties with no room for people such as professors Uriel Reichman, Yitzhak Ben-Israel and Menahem Ben-Sasson. Government with room for finance ministers like Abraham Hirchson and defense ministers like Amir Peretz. Prime ministers like Ariel Sharon, who are bound with ropes of pettiness and extremism by the political Lilliputians who were swept into the Knesset on their coattails. A state, all of whose captains feel it cannot be governed, steered, stabilized and brought safely to port.
Sharon's first act of leadership immediately after his election in the winter of 2001 was to change the electoral system. Despite increasing terrorism and deepening economic recession, Sharon realized that he must first bring stability to the political system. The prime minister who is elected in the winter of 2009 must do the same thing. We do not have the luxury of waiting for the completion of a comprehensive change in the method of government, which must be a long, cautious and considered process.
Two emergency measures must be taken immediately: All political parties must be obligated to hold open primaries, as well as to allow the head of the party to personally appoint about one third of its Knesset candidates. These two simple changes do not require a major constitutional change and will not disrupt the system of checks and balances. But in combination they will immediately improve the human fabric of the government and give the prime minister the minimum capacity needed to govern.
Lea Nass, Ruhama Avraham and Benjamin Ben-Elizer will do everything in their power to prevent this correction. The party hacks who are only now being revealed to us in all their glory will labor mightily to retain control of the institutions of government. The elected prime minister will not be able to beat them on his own. He or she will not have sufficient power to impose the interests of the state on those who have a personal interest. All this means that close cooperation will be required between the victor and the two losers. Only if Netanyahu, Livni and Barak work together can they defeat the party machines that render them powerless and jeopardize their country.
Ostensibly this election is a competition among three contenders for the crown. But in fact, Israel today has no crown. The day after the election it will become obvious that the true struggle is between the three musketeers who genuinely care about their state and three inferior parties that block their way. Only if the musketeers realize that their destiny is one and their responsibility is one will they have a possibility of pulling Israel out of its political superficiality and governmental paralysis.
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