Expert: Unity opportunity for real change

President of the Israel Democracy Institute says public trust lost, but gov't could remove undue influence of small parties.

Netanyahu and Mofaz 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Netanyahu and Mofaz 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
The new national unity government could be a rare opportunity to bring real legislative progress and stability to Israel, and should not be seen as a threat to democracy, Dr.
Arye Carmon, founder and president of the Israel Democracy Institute, told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday.
“What happened the night before last is an opportunity to bring change that can make Israel more stable, and bring Israel into the OECD as a country with a modern public management system,” he said.
According to Carmon, the late-night political bombshell means that “we now have an opportunity to deal with many of the ailments facing our society” and that the country now “has a government that will attain results that represent the demands of the majority of the Israeli public,” without being beholden to the wills of smaller parties.
He said the decision meant Israel would avoid the proposed early elections in September that would have resulted in a government similar to the pre-national-unity government, with the Likud holding around 30 seats and forced to build a coalition with seven parties holding at most 10-20 seats each. Such a situation would have meant a continuation of the “survival politics” of coalition parties, that result in legislative gridlock, he added.
The institute itself has drafted proposals for changing the governmental system with an eye toward, among other things, creating a framework wherein smaller parties would exercise less power over the government as a whole. These proposals suggest doing so by raising the Knesset threshold from 2 percent to 4%, which they argue would cut down on the influence of smaller parties.
According to the institute’s proposal, “Israeli politics suffers from exaggerated polarization due to the multitude of small, sectorial parties, and the difficulty in forming a coalition damages the stability of the country’s leadership and its ability to carry out policy.”
The proposal also calls for limiting the number of government ministers to 18, in contrast to the current 28, among other suggestions.
Carmon said if such a plan were implemented, it would deal a blow to smaller sectorial parties, which would be forced to decide whether to remain on the fringes of the Knesset or move toward joining the larger, more centrist parties.
He said that ideally it could create a situation in which Israel has a large Center-Right bloc and a large Center-Left bloc, as well as voting blocs representing the Arab and haredi (ultra-Orthodox) sectors.
For the here and now, Carmon said he didn’t see “any basis whatsoever” to claims that the unity government represented a sort of “Putinization” of Israel – a reference to Russian President Vladimir Putin – with Netanyahu de facto czar-for-life. Not only does Israel remain a democracy, he argued, but even with a massive coalition, Netanyahu will still face issues such as haredi IDF conscription and the evacuation of the Ulpana outpost, which will require him to work with coalition partners strongly opposed to such moves. The difference now, he said, is that those smaller coalition partners will have less leverage over the prime minister.
Regarding contentions that new Kadima chairman Shaul Mofaz has struck a blow to democracy by bringing his opposition party into the Likud-led coalition, Carmon said that “the people who voted for Livni and Kadima three years ago did not do so because they wanted her to be in the opposition. They chose her to lead the country.”
He added that she had erred by not joining a coalition with Netanyahu after the last elections.
While the media has spent much of the last two days discussing who stands to lose the most from the deal, Carmon said the main victim of the unity deal was not Yair Lapid or the Labor Party, but the public’s faith in the country’s political system.
Still, he added, “I think this can be improved if this massive coalition carries out some of the challenges that have been placed upon it.”