Netanyahu, Go on to the Next Trick

Haaretz Editorial
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Benjamin Netanyahu during a visit to a high school in Jerusalem, this week.
Haaretz Editorial

The latest trial balloon launched this week by Shas party chairman Arye Dery was another attempt to circumvent the law for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s electoral benefit. This time, he submitted a bill to allow a one-time-only direct election of the prime minister.

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Netanyahu and his gang have thereby reached a new nadir of political trickery. At the height of efforts to form a new government and before all possibilities of doing so have been exhausted, they have submitted a special elections bill in an effort to arrange conditions under which Netanyahu could finally win after having failed in four previous elections.

“There’s a solution to this political impasse, and a huge majority of the public supports it,” Netanyahu said, without blushing, at a meeting of Likud’s Knesset faction on Monday. “The public will directly elect the prime minister in a lightning vote, without dissolving the Knesset.”

As usual, this was merely sleight of hand. There’s nothing in the wording of the bill to give the prime minister-elect any tools that would make it easier for him to form a governing coalition and end the political impasse. The problem isn’t an inability to decide who should be asked to try to form a government, but the inability of the man who has been tasked with that job to actually form one.

The only thing the new law is meant to achieve is an end to the current government’s “parity agreement” immediately after the next election. In other words, Kahol Lavan chairman Benny Gantz would no longer become prime minister in November, as stipulated by that agreement, nor would he be able to continue, until then, thwarting the appointments of Netanyahu’s cronies, including a new justice minister, state prosecutor or anyone else Netanyahu needs to evade justice.

Even ignoring all the problems with the direct election system, the very attempt to change the rules of the game in the middle is unacceptable, and certainly when the change is both retroactive and intended to benefit a single person. If different rules are in fact desirable, they should apply only to the next Knesset. And even though this bill isn’t expected to pass, the very fact that constitutional trial balloons are being floated every day is harmful. It underscores the fragility of Israel’s constitutional democracy and the urgent need to enshrine the status of its Basic Laws, so that they can’t be changed every day or two by a razor-thin majority of 61 MKs in an effort (which is sometimes successful) to amend them according to the political needs of the moment.

Above all, this proposal appears to be a deception by Netanyahu, whose goals are to get rid of the obstacle posed by Gantz before November, and to buy time. But if 61 MKs are nevertheless willing to lend a hand to this fraudulent act, the court will have to set bounds on the Knesset’s corruption of constitutional legislation, and say “no more.” For this constitutional amendment is unconstitutional. It warps the foundations of our democratic system by “adjusting” it in the midst of the post-election process to the needs of a specific candidate. It distorts the voters’ will as expressed in the recent election, and it breaks every possible rule.

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

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