Netanyahu leaving Knesset 370.
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
After a break of over two months, the Knesset begins its winter session and a number of dramatic reforms are in the offing.
The Referendum Bill would make into a basic law the requirement for a public referendum on any twostate solution with the Palestinians. The bill specifically refers to sovereign Israeli territory – including on the Golan Heights and east Jerusalem – but not on the West Bank, which has never been annexed.
An electoral reform bill seeks to raise the minimum percentage of the vote needed to win a Knesset seat from just two to four percent.
A haredi enlistment bill seeks to institute the gradual integration of haredi young men into some sort of mandatory military or national service.
In recent months, as these three bills have come up for votes in the cabinet, in ministerial committees or in other forums on their way to becoming law, The Jerusalem Post has taken a stand in favor of them.
Regarding the Referendum Bill, we have argued that it is worth taking the risk that a referendum on territorial concessions might undermine or weaken our parliament or that it might oversimplify the issue by turning it into a “yes” or “no” question.
That’s because territorial compromise is so potentially divisive. A referendum would give much-needed legitimacy to whatever decision is ultimately made. However, such a referendum, if conducted, must not discriminate against Arab citizens. A poll published recently by the Israel Democracy Institute found, unfortunately, that many Jewish Israelis do not agree. A full 30.6 percent of Israelis said that a Jewish majority should be required for a final approval of a peace deal that includes evacuation of settlements. MKs must not cave in to this anti-democratic trend.
We have also put our support behind the electoral reform bill backed by Yisrael Beytenu. Israel’s extreme proportional representation system tends to exacerbate political instability. Government coalitions that are cobbled together inevitably become a patchwork of diverse factions. And these governments are weakened by chronic divisions and instability.
In many cases, a single party – often a religious party – can bring down a government by abandoning the coalition, giving it inordinate leveraging power.
Admittedly, smaller parties – particularly the Arab and haredi parties – will be hurt by a raise in the electoral threshold. Hopefully, our political culture will change to the point where it will be possible to incorporate haredi and Arab politicians into the largest political parties on the Right and on the Left, and there will be no need for the creation of political parties with narrow agendas that represent specific sectors of Israeli society. The beginnings of such a change are apparent in Yesh Atid, which has managed to incorporate a diverse list of parliamentarians – haredi (Dov Lipman), religious Zionist (Shai Piron) and secular.
In addition to raising the electoral threshold, other reforms should be considered, such as instituting first-past-the-post regional elections for some of the members of the Knesset.
The haredi enlistment bill is also important to Israeli democracy. The Supreme Court ruled in February 2012 that permitting one segment of Israeli society (the haredim) to indefinitely postpone mandatory army service while obligating others to serve three years was discriminatory.
As long as Israel maintains mandatory universal conscription, all must share the burden. The need to integrate haredim into the military and afterwards into the labor market is all the more pressing considering their impressive natural growth. Meanwhile, efforts must continue to encourage more Arab Israelis to perform some form of national service as well.
Disputes that arise among coalition members over these three bills might potentially endanger the stability of the government. But while the precise details of these bills might change during negotiations to allow for give and take, it is important that all three be passed for the sake of strengthening Israeli democracy.