Can Israel have UK-style snap elections? Don't count on it

For now, Israelis who feel that elections and their aftermath take too long can only look at the UK with envy.

Netanyahu and May in London (photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)
Netanyahu and May in London
(photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)
When British Prime Minister Theresa May announced a snap election recently, some Israelis looked on with envy.
In the election season of 2015 and the three that preceded it, some five months passed from dispersion of the Knesset until a new coalition was formed, disrupting the work of government for nearly half a year.
In the UK it will likely take about two months.
Netanyahu meets Britain"s PM Theresa May
“If only it were so for us,” the Israel Democracy Institute said in a wistful Facebook post. “If it can be done in Britain, maybe Israel should consider shortening its election process.”
IDI research fellow Dr. Ofer Kenig has a proposal for how the Knesset can reach British levels of political efficiency.
In a position paper he wrote on the topic, Kenig noted that from October 2012 until October 2013 the Knesset was active for only three-and-a-half months, as opposed to eight months in a regular year. Since Israel holds elections fairly often – every three years on average – there are many years in which the Knesset barely functions.
Eight months of activity per year is slightly above average for Western parliaments, but the length of time during which the Knesset is disrupted for elections and forming governments is unusually long.
“The combination of having elections often and long-lasting election campaigns creates the justified feeling that our House of Representatives meets for short periods of time,” Kenig wrote.
To change that, he said, laws are needed to stabilize governments and hold elections less often. Such laws might include mandating that the head of the largest list in the Knesset always becomes prime minister, or legislating that elections will not, automatically, be held whenever a budget is not passed.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would be unlikely to support either of those ideas.
In 2009 he became premier despite not being head of the largest list. In 2012, after Congressional Republicans shut down the US government, he told an American TV interviewer that the threat of an election was a smart feature of the Israeli budget system.
Part two of Kenig’s proposal would shorten the length of time Knesset is in recess. One way to do that is to have the minimum time of election campaign be less than 90 days, as it is currently. Another is to shorten the maximum time for a new prime minister to form a government.
Currently, whoever gets a mandate from the president to form a government has 42 days to do so, including an extension.
But it can take weeks until the president gives such a mandate.
This change is also a dead end, since MK Moti Yogev (Bayit Yehudi) proposed shortening the coalition-negotiation period after the last government was formed, but Netanyahu blocked his bill and it went nowhere.
“The impression we get from the process in which recent governments were formed is that there was foot-dragging and delay tactics... and aiming for the deadline in order to improve negotiating stances,” Kenig wrote.
So, for now, those who feel that elections and their aftermath take too long in Israel can only look at the UK with envy.
But they can take comfort in knowing election seasons in Israel do not last years, as they do in the US.