Opinion

The Mission: Changing the Political System

Lawmakers take their seats ahead of a vote to dissolve the Knesset in May when coalition talks failed.
Emil Salman

The way out of the deadlock we’re in is the formation of a secular unity government. It should consist of Kahol Lavan and Likud, who together have 64 Knesset seats. This will be a government that will not be extorted by small sectorial parties but will do what it takes to make this country a normal one.

It will allow civil marriage and introduce the study of core subjects in ultra-Orthodox schools. It will support public transportation and open supermarkets on Saturdays and will pass a draft bill that includes the ultra-Orthodox. Such a government will enter negotiations on the future of the occupied territories (based on Trump’s “deal of the century”), and will effectively handle the budget deficit. This will all be possible since this government will not include Haredi extortion, delusional settlers and the two chronically profligate leftist parties.

This sounds nice, but somewhat utopian. Netanyahu will not accept this. His sole objective is a government that will grant him immunity, and this will not be found in a unity government. If Benny Gantz is prime minister and Netanyahu a regular cabinet member, he will be indicted and forced to resign, according to the law. He will then be tried and possibly sent to prison. The problem is that other scenarios for forming a government are also impossible, and this has happened twice already.

The conclusion is that our political system is at fault. It is the factor that leads to the inability to form a stable government. It is what gives the two largest parties only 31-33 seats each, so that in order to form a narrow coalition they have to yield to extortion by smaller parties. Our system provides extensive representation (with nine parties) but very poor governance. It’s bad for the economy, it’s bad for society, and it’s bad for any attempt to find a diplomatic solution to the conflict with the Palestinians.

In the present system, any small party that joins a coalition can topple a government anytime it feels like it. This makes it impossible for a prime minister to make long-term plans. His ability to govern is so hobbled that he has to give even senior portfolios to his small partners, including the defense and finance ones. This is how a settlers’ party determines foreign policy and an ultra-Orthodox one determines domestic policies. This is a distorted system, not a democratic one, in which a minority dominates the majority.

In the government formed by Netanyahu in 2013, he was dependent on Yair Lapid, which is why he cut budgets to the ultra-Orthodox. In 2015, when their parties joined the coalition, he restored what Lapid had slashed, as well as canceling the obligation to introduce core subjects in Haredi schools.

Therefore, the system must be changed. We have to change to a system that provides stability and enables governance, such as the presidential system in the U.S. The principle should be that at the end of Election Day, we know for certain who the prime minister is for the next four years (preferably five). He can then form a government to his liking, with people he trusts. The Knesset will not be able to depose him during his term. He will not be susceptible to extortion by smaller parties, but will be limited to two terms, namely a maximum of ten years.

This will be good for the economy. Governance and stability are essential for carrying out important reforms that bear fruit only a few years later. Only someone with a horizon of at least five years will want to carry these out, so that all of us can benefit from greater growth and a higher standard of living.

There is another recipe for governance and stability: deciding that the prime minister is he or she whose party received the most votes. In this case, too, they can appoint cabinet members as they see fit, without needing the Knesset’s approval. They will not be deposable, and will be limited to two terms.

The result will be that all right-wing parties will come into the Likud’s fold and exert their influence from inside, while all the left-wing parties will join Kahol Lavan, with the ultra-Orthodox and Arabs remaining in their own parties.

Many countries have changed their political system when they stopped providing certainty, governance and stability. It’s time we did the same.