Seven years ago, Caroline Glick exposed “The high price of coalition stability” (Jerusalem Post, June 22, 2010). Her article involved some unmentioned but logical conclusions regarding Israel’s system of coalition cabinet government. The present writer has written of these unmentioned conclusions in policy papers, books, and countless articles during the past two decades. Indeed, I have systematically correlated Israel’s political failings with its flawed institutions – all in vain.
Before continuing, let me assure the reader than I am well aware of the fact that political institutions, however wisely designed, cannot prevent the election of inept and even treacherous office holders, including presidents of the United States such as Barack Obama. In other words, there is no institutional substitute for virtue and wisdom. It should be emphasized that properly designed institutions can mitigate men’s follies and vices. Alas, this is not the case in Israel, whose governmental institutions maximize the disarray of politics in this country.
The disarray began and continues as a result of a simple political decision: when Israel’s government was established in 1948, its founders, headed by David Ben-Gurion decided to make the entire country a single electoral district. This political arrangement necessitates a parliamentary system in which parties win Knesset seats on the basis Proportional Representation (PR). Given a low electoral threshold (it has risen from 1% to 3.25%), PR spawns a multiplicity of parties such that no party has ever come close to winning a majority of the 120 seats in the Knesset. This fact necessitates coalition cabinet government, which results in a cabinet consisting of several rival political parties.
Let’s examine the grounds on which virtually every commentator fears to tread.
1) The multiplicity of parties produced by PR prompts major parties – recall Labor in 1992 and the Likud since then – to deceive the public by campaigning on a more or less centrist or more vote-getting agenda, only to shift in the opposite direction once the leaders of these parties become prime ministers. Thus, Labor leader Yitzhak Rabin, who scorned the PLO in the 1992 election campaign, signed – after a “decent interval” – the Israel-PLO agreement of 1993. Likewise, Ariel Sharon, who campaigned against Labor’s policy of disengagement in 2003, adopted – after another “decent interval” – that very policy!
2) Likud Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was also devious. He said nothing of the “two state solution” preceding the February 2009 election. But after a mind-numbing interval of four months, he endorsed a Palestinian state!
3) Some sixty years ago, David Ben-Gurion denounced Proportional Representation and revealed the pernicious nature of multiparty cabinet government, which remains solidly entrenched to this day. The reasons are not pretty. PR not only yields a multiplicity of parties in the Knesset. It also compels citizens to vote for fixed party lists. One result is this: the members of the Knesset are not individually accountable to the voters in constituency or regional elections.
4) Moreover, members of the Knesset know that this system of voting for fixed party slates – a system found only in four out of more than 80 countries classified as democracies – enables an incumbent MK to be re-elected without having to compete with a rival candidate (who would surely reveal the incumbent’s political failings). For this reason alone, virtually all members of the Knesset oppose direct, personal, and democratic election of Israel’s parliament.
5) Furthermore, multiparty cabinet government enables any MK, regardless of his record, to become a cabinet minister – the road to power and political longevity. This explains Glick’s characterization of Ehud Barak is a “serial bungler.” One may add Shimon Peres, the father of Oslo, who became a permanent fixture in the Knesset until that conglomeration of self-serving politicians elected him Israel’s president!
Surely a well-informed and perceptive political analyst like Caroline Glick could add many other instances of the disastrous consequences of multiparty cabinet government.