Netanyahu, Lieberman Agree to Raise Electoral Threshold; Opposition Calls Move anti-Arab

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The electoral threshold for parties wishing to enter the Knesset will be raised from 2 percent to 3.25 percent, according to an agreement between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.

The decision was reached after months of deliberation by Netanyahu in an attempt to reach an agreed-on threshold for the governability bill sponsored by Yisrael Beiteinu and Yesh Atid, which has already passed its first reading.

While the original bill called for the threshold to be increased to 4 percent, Lieberman agreed to compromise so as to appease Netanyahu and, particularly, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, who opposes the bill. Sources in the Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu who confirmed the details hastened to add that “Livni isn’t pleased with the agreement,” though they believe that the decision would hold.

“Once the prime minister and his foreign minister decide on a common course, it’s very difficult to stop them,” a senior coalition source said. Raising the threshold will make it difficult for small parties (like Kadima) and niche parties (like the Green Leaf party) to get elected to the Knesset, and will force the Arab parties to unite in the next election for the Arabs to be represented in parliament. Opposition members claim that Lieberman is promoting the bill to force Arab parties out of the Knesset.

Had a 3.25% threshold been in place in the last general election, in January 2013, at least three parties currently in Knesset - Hadash, Balad and Kadima, which each garnered fewer than 123,264 votes - would not have been included.

The dispute over raising the threshold is one of the few issues that were delaying the second and third readings of the governability bill. In the coming weeks, the coalition is expected to finish the preparation of the bill, as well as two other major bills that have passed their first reading, and bring them to the Knesset for their final readings as a “package deal,” which will obligate coalition parties to support all of them.

Along with the governability bill, committee work is proceeding on a military draft reform bill, sponsored by Yesh Atid and Habayit Hayehudi, and a Basic Law on Referendums, that was drafted for fear that the High Court of Justice would overturn the existing law that obligates the holding of a referendum on any plan to withdraw from land under Israeli sovereignty. This would include proposed territorial concessions on the Golan Heights or Jerusalem, or any plan to exchange land within the Green Line for land in the West Bank. It would not apply to a decision to evacuate settlements.

The governability bill also includes a clause that would limit the number of ministers and deputy ministers and do away with ministers without portfolio.

MK Dov Khenin (Hadash), whose party received 3 percent of the vote in January’s general election, vehemently criticized the impending move. “This strange number, 3.25 percent, is aimed specifically at preventing the election to the Knesset of parties whose support comes from the Arab population,” Khenin said. Insisting that the Arab parties unite, he said, “is a dangerous train of thought. It denies the Arabs the right to pluralism and will leave them with only one option in the elections.”

Lieberman and Netanyahu, earlier this year. Jerusalem, November 11, 2013. Credit: Emil Salman

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