Israel is in the midst of a democratic crisis, yet somehow one would hardly notice it. While the world contemplates how to respond to the latest challenges to democracy developing in the U.S. and the U.K., Israel is facing the possibility of a third national election in less than a year. Within days and no more than approximately a month, the leader of the Blue and White Party, Benny Gantz, either will have cobbled together a new coalition government or Israeli citizens will head to the polls in mid-December; ironically around the same time that the Brits may well be voting whether to keep the Tories in power or not.
For Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, both his personal and public career could well be coming to an end. He failed to build a new viable governing coalition; is now awaiting official indictment on corruption charges; and should the leader of the Blue and White Party, Benny Gantz, also fail to form a coalition, Bibi might or might not lead his Likud Party into the next round of elections.
It is not the personal fate of Netanyahu which is troublesome for Israel’s democracy, although it is sad spectacle to watch an illustrious career end in shame. For Israel’s democracy, the problem today as it has been since its inception, is the consistent challenges faced by coalition government in a multi-party system during non-emergency times.
From the Third and Fourth French Republics, through Weimar Germany and the numerous governments in post-War Italy as well as in numerous other countries, coalition governments have proven to be extraordinarily unstable. Israel’s efforts at electoral reform over the past 70 years have been tentative at best. The delicate balances created and the continued placing of power over permanent party change has been consistently frustrated. Efforts made to seek single-member districts, elimination of proportional representation, or even reasonable thresholds for party representation repeatedly have been thwarted by political egos and a lusting for power. The functionality of Israel’s democracy indeed is challenged as it contemplates another election.
The very serious democratic challenges confronting the Israeli political system have been present since Israel’s inception. Of even more concern to Israeli citizens and their leadership is that from a national security perspective Israel does not enjoy any down time to contemplate its internal, political reform.
One needs to consider only the following serious regional events that are transpiring in the midst of this electoral muddle:
- Iran remains the major regional threat. With the increased instability created by the Trump Administration decision to withdraw from Turkey and its backing of the Kurds, no one can clearly predict how Iran will intercede into the region. Clearly, further incursion by the Russians, Syria, and radical Islamists into the vacuum–with no viable opposition force–does not present a very positive picture for Israel.
- Israel and Saudi Arabia have many common interests in containing Iranian regional aggression. In this regard it was noted that a private jet departed last week from Israel’s Ben-Gurion Airport, spent one hour on the ground in Saudi Arabia and then returned to Israel. There was no explanation.
- It was announced that President Trump’s chief Middle East negotiator, Jared Kushner, would be travelling to Israel to meet with Acting Prime Minister Netanyahu as well as Benny Gantz. Few people believe that a significant breakthrough is expected in the near future. As Kushner is headed to the forthcoming Saudi economic conference later this week, Trump wants to keep his evangelical and Jewish supporters aware of his continuing interest in achieving regional peace; despite the fact that most observers do not believe there is a chance of achieving a shift in positions in negotiations with the Palestinians.
- Israel’s military chief-of staff, Lt. General Avi Kohavi announced last week that Israel is facing major potential war threats not only from the north, along the Syrian Lebanese border, but in the south as well. He has indicated he was increasing preparedness especially against missile attacks.
In this manner, therefore, Israel tends to move from one political crisis to another. Many analysts and academics have observed that Israel’s ability to manage its regional as well as its domestic policy issues could be greatly enhanced if it finally addressed electoral reform.