Direct Election for the Prime Minister Is Only the Latest Crazy Idea

PM Netanyahu, President Rivlin and Blue and White party leader Gantz, attend a memorial ceremony for Shimon Peres, at Mount Herzl in Jerusalem, September 19, 2019.

A new and outrageous trial balloon was sent up this week by Arye Dery and other members of the so-called right-wing bloc,” including former Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked: It called for amending the Basic Law on the Government to permit a one-off direct election between Benny Gantz and Benjamin Netanyahu for the position of prime minister.

It seems there’s no end to the crazy ideas the bloc’s legislators can concoct to address the legislative-political crisis. Anything to avoid facing the message delivered by voters, who gave Kahol Lavan, the party Gantz leads, the largest number of votes.

This latest proposal sets new records for folly, political cynicism, thoughtlessness, legislative irresponsibility and misuse of the instrument of legislation.

Let it be clear: It is absolutely forbidden to change the rules in the midst of the process of forming the government. Any deviation from this principle takes Israel one step further into the realm of a banana republic.

Such an action, changing the rules of the game, is all about political opportunism and has nothing to do with a genuine attempt to improve the electoral system in Israel or to resolve the impasse in forming a government. 

In addition, it is clear that from the practical perspective, as was shown in the 1990s, direct election of the prime minister offers the worst of both electoral worlds.

While a third general election holds the possibility of one side or the other obtaining a clear mandate to govern, the proposed run-off election would do nothing to change the current situation in the Knesset, in which no candidate has mustered the majority needed to sustain a vote of confidence in the new government.

The old direct election law also required the Knesset to demonstrate its confidence in the government. Thus, direct election would not be sufficient to alter the present political situation, unless the members of “the bloc” want to reward Netanyahu for his exploits by making him a de facto president. 

The MKs from “the bloc” want to enjoy the best of both worlds: to try their luck again in an election, since their candidate for prime minister received a clear vote of no-confidence from the people in the previous round, but without risking their own place in the Knesset — a risk inherent in a general election.

A reconsideration of the electoral system is important, but it must be done slowly, without pressure, on the basis of careful thought, consultation with experts and estimation of the potential effects. Amending the Basic Law on the Government in the midst of efforts to assemble a coalition or ahead of an election would be an unprecedented act of villainy against democracy. It cannot be allowed to happen.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.