Representatives from the six coalition factions will meet at the Knesset on
Monday to discuss possible changes to the electoral system, such as adopting an
American-style presidential system, enacting direct regional elections and
allowing Israelis living abroad to vote.
Prime Minister Binyamin
Netanyahu decided to appoint his close ally, Transportation Minister Yisrael
Katz, to head the electoral change committee, which met several times but made
no progress when it was headed by Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman.
close to Netanyahu said the timing of the committee, reconvening for the first
time in several months, had nothing to do with the nearby regimes falling and
the political change sweeping the Middle East. They did, however, hint that it
had something to do with the fact that the State Attorney’s Office was expected
to make a decision by the end of the month about whether to indict Foreign
Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who has pushed for electoral changes in the past and
needs accomplishments for his Israel Beiteinu Party.
“There was, indeed,
pressure from Lieberman, but the Likud also has an interest in making changes,”
a source close to Netanyahu said.
Senior Likud officials said that out of
the three issues set to be raised, the most likely change was the so-called Omri
Casspi bill, which would allow some Israelis abroad to vote and which is named
after the Sacramento Kings player who is the first Israeli to play in the
They said the least likely change would be the enactment of direct,
regional elections for part of the Knesset.
The coalition agreement
requires that there be a vote on enabling Israelis abroad to vote, but the same
agreement gives every faction veto power over changes in the electoral system.
Shas has threatened to use its veto to oppose a bill allowing Israelis living
abroad for more than two months to vote.
The Likud had proposed allowing
Israelis living abroad for five years to vote.
The main opposition to the
bill in the past, aside from Shas, came from Labor, which has since left the
Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s Independence faction may end up
supporting the bill.
“If pushed, we would consider allowing Israelis
[living] abroad for only year or two to vote,” Independence faction head Einat
Wilf said. “But it is so complicated, it could be an administrative nightmare to
separate Israelis abroad. It doesn’t seem entirely worth it.”
presidential system is strongly supported by Israel Beiteinu and backed by many
MKs in Likud, but is opposed by Shas and the Independence faction. Netanyahu’s
own opinion on the matter is unknown and may be revealed by cabinet secretary
Zvi Hauser at the meeting.
A bill promoting direct, regional elections
for at least a third of the seats in the Knesset was supported in the last
Knesset by Likud, Labor and Kadima. But now the latter two parties are in the
opposition, and a majority of Likud MKs oppose the direct, regional election
bill that was sponsored in the last Knesset by then-Likud faction chairman and
current Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar.
Shas chairman Eli Yishai,
Knesset Law Committee head David Rotem (Israel Beiteinu) and Wilf are the
strongest opponents of direct, regional elections in the Knesset.
faction head Dalia Itzik supports making the change. Itzik complained that
opposition factions were not invited to the meeting.
“We are worried that
instead of dealing with serious issues like enacting direct, regional elections,
the committee will merely allow yordim to vote,” Itzik said, using a pejorative
word for Israelis living abroad, meaning “those who go
“Considering changes in the political system is important, and
there is no reason not to coordinate it with Kadima,” she said.