Editorial

Limit the Term of a Prime Minister

File photo: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, attends the swearing in ceremony at the Knesset, Israel's parliament in Jerusalem, April 30, 2019.
AP Photo/Ariel Schalit

In the coming weeks Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – who has been asked by President Reuven Rivlin to form a government – will assemble a coalition with a solid parliamentary majority that will enable the establishment of Israel’s 35th government. This will be Netanyahu’s fifth government and his fourth in a row.

Netanyahu’s ongoing tenure as prime minister – in addition to causing diplomatic and security damage, societal rifts and the breakdown of public norms regarding the rule of law – has also distorted the norms of government and the perception of the political culture.

In his previous term in office, Netanyahu adopted hallmarks of a monarchical regime, both in terms of the concentration of power and decision-making in his hands and the hands of his sycophants, and in terms of his style of conduct and that of his family, who have begun to see themselves as being above the people. It is therefore essential to once again impose the notion that the highest public office of all be placed in the hands of an elected official to serve the public for a limited period.

In many countries the constitution includes a stipulation that the term of office of the country’s leader is limited in time or number of terms. That is the case in the United States, where the 22nd Amendment states that the president can serve for only eight years; that is, two terms. In Israel a similar clause appeared in the Basic Law on the Government, at the time when there were direct elections for prime minister, but it disappeared from the wording of the law when the parliamentary election method was reintroduced in 2001. Even Netanyahu himself, when he was prime minister in 1997, said: “I was among those who initiated and pushed for the direct election law, I asked for a clause to be in it and I said that a prime minister cannot serve for more than two terms.”

On Monday, the Kahol Lavan party introduced an amendment to the Basic Law on the Government to limit the number of consecutive terms a prime minister can serve. Limiting the number of terms does not undermine voters’ wishes, because in Israel voters do not elect a prime minister, but rather a party to the Knesset, and the Knesset places its confidence in the government in which the prime minister is first among equals and nothing more.

Changeover of government is an important value in a democracy. The restriction of a prime minister’s term will also contribute to governmental stability because it will remove the incentive for the prime minister to call a surprise election at a time that is politically convenient, catching rivals of the same or other parties unprepared, and without any connection to the good of the public or the state. This bill should be passed with the sweeping support of all parties in the Knesset.

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