Israel/Palestine: The Politics of a Two-State Solution

  • Israel/Palestine and the Politics of a Two-State Solution
  • When Peace Fails: Lessons from Belfast for the Middle East

Thursday, March 14, 2013

New Israeli coalition appears Reformist

Today the news in Israel is that after 49 days of bargaining, the white smoke has gone up and a new coalition government has emerged. It consists of four parties: Likud Beitenu (31 seats), Yesh Atid (19), Jewish Home (14), and HaTnua (The Movement) (6). This gives it a ten seat majority so that it should be able to stand normal attrition levels for its lifetime if it can keep the three main parties in. Prime Minister Netanyahu managed to keep both the defense ministry and the foreign ministry for the Likud Beitenu. 

Here is a link to a list of the ministers in the new government.

Besides the day-to-day running of the country, the new coalition seems to have two main goals: integration of the ultra-Orthodox haredim into Israeli society and electoral reform. The first is to be accomplished by removing the exemptions from national or military service for all but 1800 ultra-Orthodox males and by requiring all schools, including the ultra-Orthodox schools, to have a core curriculum of English, science, and math so as to make the ultra-Orthodox employable in the secular world and hence not dependent on the religious parties for financial support.  Here is a view of the new coalition by veteran English-speaking Israeli journalist David Horovitz.

Yesterday it was announced that legislation would be introduced in the Knesset to double the entry barrier for the Knesset from two percent to four percent of the vote for all parties. This would make it necessary for the smaller parties to join up into blocs and run as a single list. Under the proposed law all of the Arab parties would have been eliminated, which is why MK Ahmed Tibi claimed that it was aimed at the Arab sector. But in reality, it is probably aimed by Yesh Atid and Jewish Home mainly at the ultra-Orthodox parties, which are the latter's main rivals for Knesset seats and were the main targets of Yesh Atid's campaign in the recent election. The Left-wing Meretz also would have been eliminated from the previous Knesset as it had only three seats. Kadima would also have been eliminated under the new proposed barrier. 

Electoral reform in Israel has been a goal since at least 1965 when former Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion ran on a platform of electoral reform when he split off to form the Rafi party. It was the main demand of the Democratic Movement for Change in the 1977 election that put the Likud in power for the first time. And it has been the demand of small extra-parliamentary pressure groups over the decades who see it both as a source of power for the ultra-Orthodox at the expense of the secular public and an obstacle for peace with the Palestinians. But the existing small parties have always had a vested interest in preserving the status quo and the two main parties were unwilling to form a national unity government in order to tackle this issue. 

I personally think that five percent should be the minimum entry barrier and better yet would be a change of the franchise system to either the proportional representation--single transferable vote (PR-STV) used today in both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, as well as Malta. This would divide the country up into a number of multi-member constituencies and force a consolidation by the parties. Or the alternative would be a combination of voting methods as in Germany where voters vote both for a party and for a representative in single-member constituencies. But this new entry barrier will be a major improvement over previous incremental raises from one percent to 1.5 percent to two percent. Four-five percent is the entry barrier in most European countries that use the PR-list system as in Israel. Its use will make Israeli coalitions more stable and less prone to blackmail. This should leave Israel with about six or seven parties (Likud, Israel Beitenu, Shas, Labor, Jewish Home, Meretz, Arab list) represented compared to the present situation where ten to twelve is the average per Knesset.

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