Time for term limits

This past year has been a political failure – a dismal one.

Benny Gantz and Benjamin Netanyahu at swearing in of 21st Knesset (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Benny Gantz and Benjamin Netanyahu at swearing in of 21st Knesset
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
At some point in time, this will all be behind us.
 
At some point in time, the State of Israel will have a government with a permanent – not transitional – prime minister. At some point in time the country will have a cabinet that meets on a regular basis and has the authority to make critical decisions; a Knesset that will actually pass laws; and a full-fledged budget.
 
And when that day comes, stock will need to be taken. The nation will need to look back and see what went wrong, and how it lost a year of good governance – the type of governance the people deserve and which the challenges of this region necessitate.
 Stock will need to be taken not to cast blame – the political crisis that has gripped this country since Avigdor Liberman triggered elections in 2018 by quitting as defense minister has numerous mothers and fathers – but, rather, to prevent it from happening again.
One of this country’s strengths is its ability to provide correctives. Israel has shown frequently that it is neither too proud nor too arrogant to admit mistakes. Rather, when failures happen – especially military ones – it often investigates so that they don’t happen again. 
 
And this past year has been a political failure – a dismal one.
 
Israel is not Italy or Spain – countries that don’t have neighbors seeking to destroy it – which have the luxury of going to elections at short intervals or have governments that lead for mere months. Israel, considering its location and challenges, needs effective and decisive government.
 
Lessons from this ongoing political madness will need to be learned. How did we get here? How do we get out? And what can be done to ensure we don’t revisit this situation anytime soon?
 
In the coming months, various suggestions will surely be proffered: elect the prime minister directly; raise the threshold needed for parties to get into the Knesset; create electoral districts; legislate that the largest party automatically be mandated the job of forming a government, and then not need a 61-MK majority to do so.
 
Each of those suggestions has its merit, though a couple – such as the direct election of the prime minister and raising the threshold – were tried here before, but without resounding success.
 
Another idea whose time has definitely come is limiting the terms of prime ministers. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has now been premier in unsuccessive terms for 13 years and nine months. That is a lot of time. In fact, it’s just under 19% of this nation’s history.
 
That’s not healthy, neither for Netanyahu – or any leader, for that matter – nor for the country.
 
It’s not healthy for the leader because it creates a sense of entitlement, a feeling that “If I’m there for so long, I deserve certain privileges.”
 
 It also creates a perception that one person is irreplaceable, something that erodes the extremely important distinction in democracies between the leader and the state. In democracies, the leader is not the state; the leader serves the state.
 
Furthermore, the concentration of power in one person’s hands for so long inevitably leads to an erosion in democracy’s sacred balance of powers.
 
Term limits are healthy for another reason as well: they cultivate transitions, which themselves are good for governance. There is something positive and refreshing about new leaders who are not wedded to the politics of their predecessors – even if they are from the same party, taking charge at set intervals. 
 
The lack of term limits here ensures that this country’s prime minister will never groom a successor. Since almost every premier here has wanted to rule indefinitely, why build someone up inside your own party who then may one day pose a challenge?
 
There is no one cure-all for the problems that exist in Israel’s political system, and term limits may not have prevented the political collision we are all currently experiencing. But when the country eventually does walk away from this political car wreck and looks to buy a new vehicle, it should look to install term limits as a new feature.


Tags Politics