Israel's Democracy Has Exhausted Itself – This Could Save It

Noa Landau
Noa Landau
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, today.
Noa Landau
Noa Landau

The man bearing the heaviest burden on his shoulders in Israel these days, President Reuven Rivlin, accurately summed up the political situation over the last two years in one despairing sentence on Monday: “Democracy has exhausted itself through four elections.”

Examining this statement in a broader context reveals that Rivlin didn’t intend it as a dramatic claim about Israel’s character or system of government. Rather, he was referring to the simple fact that after four elections in two years, a fifth election won’t tell us anything new, and therefore must be prevented.

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Most Israelis would undoubtedly agree that a fifth election should be prevented at almost any cost. But there’s one person who clearly only benefits from the ongoing political impasse – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

After all, as long as elections are taking place, he remains the acting prime minister. A sixth election? Seventh? Eighth? As far as he’s concerned, let’s have elections forever and he’ll be in office forever.

Admittedly, a caretaker government has limits to what it can do. It paralyzes the country. But it’s already clear that the personal interests of the man juggling the Prime Minister’s Office and the Jerusalem District Court outweigh any other consideration.

Also admittedly, Netanyahu has committed to rotate the prime minister’s job to Benny Gantz in the future. But the only person who still believes that promise might be kept is Gantz himself, and maybe his wife – though even that is far from certain.

A hint of the fact that a fifth election is what Netanyahu really wants – given that he is once again unable to muster the support of 61 of the Knesset’s 120 lawmakers, with or without the support of the Islamic Movement – has been heard between the lines of his mouthpieces’ comments ever since the results of the last election were announced. Admittedly, there have been efforts to keep up the appearance that the option of support from the United Arab List remains open, but mainly in order to keep that party from forming a government with Netanyahu’s opponents.

In practice, the “totally right-wing” bloc has nothing to lose from another round. Even Bezalel Smotrich, head of the Religious Zionism party, hasn’t hesitated to bury the option of forming a Netanyahu government with UAL’s support.

This bloc would prefer to have the public blame the other side for this step, which, to say the least, is unpopular. But in fact, the rival bloc is making that easy for them by its embarrassing squabbles over who will lead it.

Given all this, one thing is clear: Regardless of whom the president asks to form a government first, if there’s a fifth election, Netanyahu has no mandate to head another caretaker government, plain and simple. With or without the indictments against him, whose gravity was proven once again on Monday, he is someone who has failed over and over to form a functioning government and has lost any authority or public legitimacy to remain in power.

There is a solution for this situation. Admittedly, it’s one that’s extremely unusual for Israel, but it has been used more than once in the democratic world – a government of experts.

Governments comprised of experts, also known as technocratic governments, are formed in parliamentary democracies for a defined time precisely to extricate them from exceptional situations like the one in which Israel is mired. Since the mid-20th century, more than 25 such governments have been set up in Europe.

Their leaders and members aren’t politicians, but professionals whose job is mainly to run the country and preserve the status quo to some extent until political order is restored – for instance, until a new election is held.

This may sound radical and bizarre, and it will be hard to decide who should head such a government. Nevertheless, it’s the only solution. It has been tried successfully in many countries and will work here as well. If we’re headed for a fifth election, the time has come for Israel, too, to have a technocratic government.

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