Israel's political system is broken, so fix it

Dr. Norman Bailey

Term limits for heads of government and electoral districts are just two vitally needed reforms.

When the current Israeli political circus is finally over with some sort of government installed in Jerusalem, it will be high time, indeed way past time, to decide what to reform in an obviously broken political system and how to accomplish such a reform.
The current political system--hardly worthy of the name "system", is a mess made up of bits and pieces inherited from the British mandate, ad hoc arrangements adopted when the brand-new country was attacked on all sides and priority one was survival, followed by a series of so-called "basic laws" covering various aspects of the political and judicial structures and processes in no coherent fashion.
This, coupled with court decisions concerning laws passed by the Knesset and regulations promulgated by various governmental ministries, departments and agencies make up the "system".
The result of all these ingredients is a stew which is neither a presidential system as in the US and many other countries, a pure parliamentary system as in the UK and elsewhere, or a mixture of the two, as in France.
In the US the president and the Congress are elected separately, and each has its roles, powers and functions spelled out in the constitution. The president is both head of state and head of government and as such represents the republic at home and abroad and runs the government. In corporate terms he is both CEO (chief executive officer) and COO (chief operating officer). In the UK, the members of the House of Commons are elected by electoral districts and in turn install a government based on the election results. The head of state, the monarch, is a symbolic figure. Executive power is centered in the prime minister and his cabinet. In France the president and the national assembly are elected separately, with the president the head of state and CEO and the role of head of government and COO played by a prime minister who is limited to administering the governmental machinery.
Israel is none of these. It has no constitution; its head of state is a non-executive president; its legislature, the Knesset, is not elected by electoral district but by party list and thus the members of the Knesset represent no-one in particular except their party bosses. The prime minister is both the CEO and the COO.
In addition, in Israel the prime minister is subject to no term limits, unlike in the US, where the president is limited to two consecutive four-year terms.
It is clear to everyone, except of course the politicians who benefit from the present system, that it desperately needs to be reformed. The question, of course, is how?
The optimum reform would be to call a constitutional convention and write and adopt a constitution after more than seventy years without one, adopting one or the other of the forms of democratic governance outlined above.
If that is for the time being impossible, at least two reforms of the present anarchic structure are absolutely essential. If it has to be done by passing more basic laws, so be it. One is to limit the prime minister to two consecutive terms of four or five years each. The other is to have the members of the Knesset elected by electoral district. This would not only mean that each member would represent a defined group of voters, but it would have the added advantage of limiting voting by blocs of voters organized by ethnic makeup or religious beliefs. Such groups would have to compete in the district arena with other elements of society, for the mutual benefit of all.
Optimum or minimum, something must be done. Given the always precarious situation of Israel in the world and in the Middle East, the future survival of the country may very well depend on it.

Norman A. Bailey, Ph.D., is Professor of Economics and National Security, The National Security Studies Center, University of Haifa, and Adjunct Professor of Economic Statecraft, The Institute of World Politics, Washington DC. He was formerly with the US National Security Council and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

Published by Globes, Israel business news - - on December 23, 2019

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