Leave the System of Government Alone

The Israeli public and its representatives have a strange tendency to assume that every problem has to have a solution. For example, if Israel has a problem with its system of government, we have to change the system again and again until we find a system that works, no matter what the cost.

It's hard to understand this somewhat childish approach, especially in light of our national experience that shows that many of Israel's problems have no solution, and that all that can be done is to manage them and learn to live with them.

It's even more hard to understand the debate that erupted right after elections that produced an unequivocal outcome, of all times. Not only did the elections show that the people want the right wing, they also allow for two stable coalitions: a narrow, right-wing government, or a Likud-Kadima government. There is a real chance for a government that would last for four years, something that has not happened in Israel since 1981.

It's hard to shake the impression that one reason for the wave of proposals to change the system of government, specifically in light of the fact they come from the center and left, is that this time the public voted the wrong way - for the right. If you can't change the public, you try to change the system.

The truth is, an objective look at the Israeli system reveals that it is a huge democratic success. The Knesset contains representatives of groups with opposing worldviews and completely conflicting interests, who sometimes regard each other with boundless hatred. They all come to the Knesset, make decisions together, bargain, horse-trade and curse. And mainly, they run the country together.

This of course comes at a cost in terms of government efficiency; Israeli voters have been going to the polls every three years. But the last thing we need is to change the system so that some groups find themselves out of the game. All the research shows that there are many more revolutions in presidential regimes, which deny representation to part of the population, than in parliamentary regimes. Moving to a presidential system is the fast road to rebellion, civil war and dictatorship. Let's remember Yitzhak Rabin and realize that we are not immune.

The idea of moving to a regional electoral system, which produces only large parties, has exactly the same problem - sidelining a good portion of the political forces. No less surprising is the belief that regional elections will make Israeli politics better. Anyone who follows the parties' primaries knows that their districts produce the less impressive politicians - among others, the unknown, the poorly spoken and the local bosses. It is not clear why they should receive a shortcut to the Knesset.

Experience also shows that after the system of government is changed, you can't go back. When it became apparent how stupid the system of direct elections was, and what a disaster it brought on the political system, the parliamentary system was hurriedly restored. But the public refused to return to its old voting habits for the big parties and continued to scatter its votes into sliver parties. That is not a reason to change the system again; rather, it is a reason to be careful of being burned again by another such revolution.

The apparent next prime minister, Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu, often says that "the system of government is not socks." He means you do not change it every morning. The public needs many years to get used to a system of government and have confidence in it. The move to direct elections and back was much more than the Israeli electorate could take in one generation. Give it a rest from change. Don't turn Israel into a laboratory for political experiments.