Loser Takes All

Perhaps now, in light of the strange tie in the elections, the four large parties - Kadima, Likud, Yisrael Beiteinu and Labor - will lead this important reform to change the system of government.

David Ben-Gurion copied our system of government from the Zionist Congress. The problem is that the Zionist Congress was a body whose goal was talking, and a government is a body whose goal is implementing. By the time Ben-Gurion realized this in the early 1950s and sought to change the system, he couldn't muster a majority. The small parties, who were members of the coalition, refused. They knew very well why.

They understood that in Israel there is a special system in which the loser takes all. It's a system in which the small parties get everything they want because the party in power has to pay the small parties anything they ask for, otherwise there is no coalition and no government.

The system creates a situation where the prime minister has to deal constantly with "coalition maintenance," making endless compromises to satisfy the various parties, rejecting every significant move and reform. And even this doesn't help because governments change in Israel every two years on average. That's how every Israeli government becomes a government of paralysis, with the minority ruling the majority - the opposite of representative democracy.

For many years the extreme-right parties dictated policy on the settlements. They always managed to get budgets passed for the settlements by threatening to break up the coalition - and followed through. The extreme right and Shas brought down Benjamin Netanyahu when they bolted his government because he signed the Wye Plantation agreement with Yasser Arafat.

This is a major distortion of the will of the majority because many surveys in recent years show that the public is ready for a significant territorial compromise in exchange for peace with the Palestinians. But the minority controls the majority on other central issues, such as education. The vast majority of Israelis want to see one public education system - egalitarian, progressive and providing education and knowledge to everyone. But the Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox have made education a sectarian affair, composed of many factions and beset by racial discrimination.

Only a few months ago Tzipi Livni tried to establish a coalition. She could have had a majority of 71 MKs (Kadima 29, Labor 19, Shas 11, Pensioners 7 and Meretz 5). But Ehud Barak demanded huge additional funding, Shas demanded an increase in child allowances and to leave Jerusalem out of the negotiations, and the Pensioners demanded another few billion.

Livni could have given in to everyone, but then she would have headed a government of paralysis that was over-budget and halting any effort to conduct diplomatic negotiations. And because she did not agree to knuckle under to extortion, she did not have a government.

Therefore, if we want the majority to rule and establish a stable government that lasts for four years, and create revolutions and reforms in all areas of life, we must change the system of government. The most suitable system to adopt is that of Britain. It is a local, majority-based system that on the one hand has Parliament as sovereign, but on the other creates two large parties, right and left, that allow for long-term stability.

The British system also encourages moderation and centralism in the two major parties, because they know that without the votes of their party mainstreams they cannot win.

Even if we do adopt the British system we will not be left with only two large parties. The moment the country is divided into 120 electoral districts, the ultra-Orthodox will attain a majority in Bnei Brak and in parts of Jerusalem, the settlers will have a majority in the West Bank, and the Arabs will have a majority in the Triangle. All the other groups will find expression in one of the two major parties.

In the United States, for example, where the social and ethnic divide is just as wide as in Israel, many groups are not represented by a party, such as the extreme right, the ultra-religious and the Hispanic and African-American minorities. Each of these groups finds its place in the Republican or Democratic party, and no one claims that the United States is not democratic.

Perhaps now, in light of the strange tie in the elections, the four large parties - Kadima, Likud, Yisrael Beiteinu and Labor - will lead this important reform to change the system of government. In this way they would accomplish something that even Ben-Gurion did not manage to do back in the early 1950s.