Sure Way to the Third World

The scenario: The Likud wins 42 seats in the 2009 elections. Even though that comes to only 35 percent of the votes, Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu is automatically appointed prime minister and forms a coalition. Two years later, the coalition collapses due to disagreements over the peace process and Netanyahu doesn't have a majority in the Knesset. Anarchy prevails over the Knesset, the budget doesn't get passed, Knesset members pass bills that contradict government policy. All attempts to topple the government fail because of the need for a 66-MK majority.

Is this scenario imaginary? Not really. This is what the new government reform from the beit midrash [study hall] of Kadima, Yisrael Beiteinu and the Pensioners Party is proposing. According to the proposal, the prime minister will not be whoever has a majority in the Knesset, but whoever represents the largest party. A 66-MK majority will be necessary to remove him from office, but the opposition will need only a simple majority to pass bills that contradict the government position.

And how do we know that this is how it works? Between 1996 and 1999, Israel already had a prime minister who could be removed from office by a 61-MK majority: Netanyahu. At the end of his term he did not have a majority in the Knesset. The result was that he was unable to govern. There were also innumerable private members' bills that made their way to the Knesset, some of which cost the state many millions of shekels. To this day, Israel has not recovered from the governmental crisis wrought by the direct-election method. Now Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Strategic Affairs Minister Avigdor Lieberman are suggesting that we attempt the same thing, only more so.

Olmert and Lieberman are not only refusing to learn from the Israeli experience, but from the rest of the world as well. What characterized the failed direct-election method was that instead of examining what works and what doesn't in the rest of the world, Israel came up with a system all its own. After all, we know better. The Olmert-Lieberman approach is similar. Each of these steps has indeed been attempted in other countries, but putting all of them together doesn't work anywhere.

Once again they are proposing a hybrid approach: not a parliamentary system and not a presidential one either. Apparently, the hope is to benefit from the advantages of both systems, but experience shows that we will primarily suffer from the disadvantages of both. The suggestion that the prime minister be safeguarded with a 66-MK majority is particularly absurd. In a parliamentary democracy, it's impossible to prevent the majority in the Knesset from toppling the government. It's doubtful whether the present Knesset has the authority to pass a law preventing the next Knesset from doing so.

Many of the diseases of the existing governmental system also characterize the proposal to change the system, which Olmert discussed last week: improvisation, compromise instead of vision, an attempt to circumvent the need for coalition approval (including Shas and Labor) instead of acting to generate such consent and primarily a lack of long-term planning and thought.

Israel today is not in the same place it was when the direct-election law was passed. Since then, governmental stability has been severely weakened and the national might has been diminished. It's doubtful whether Israel can allow itself, once again, to be a field experiment for a delusional method of government.

And, above all, the last thing that Israel needs today is a prime minister who is not dependent on the Knesset. The problem of an inability to govern is a serious one, but the societal rifts are a greater and more dangerous problem. One of the things that preserve the little confidence in government that still exists in Israeli society is that various sectors feel they are represented. There must not be a prime minister elected by a quarter or a third of the voters. He also must not be able to stay in his post without a coalition including representatives of several sectors.

Therefore, the proposal of Olmert, Lieberman and the Pensioners will not bring stability nor an ability to rule, but anarchy, deeper societal rifts and increased public opposition. It will also move Israel further down the slippery slope leading from the Western world toward the Third World. One can hope that the present method of government, which still requires coalition approval, will prevent them from passing the proposal.