Two-party politics

With talk of early elections in the air, serious thought should be given to taking the steps necessary to make a quasi-two-party system a reality.

Knesset building 390 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Knesset building 390
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
The latest in a series of political crises afflicting Kadima has made the problems of being a centrist party in our political system abundantly clear.
The two veteran parties, the Likud and Labor, to a large extent like the Republicans and the Democrats in the US represent the two mainstream positions on cardinal issues such as security and socioeconomics.
The ideological room between them is simply too narrow and insubstantial to allow for a third party.
Disingenuous attempts have been made – particularly by Yair Lapid, head of the next up-and-coming superfluous centrist party, Yesh Atid – to paint Labor chairwoman Shelly Yechimovich as a radical socialist who is opposed to free market enterprise, while Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has been portrayed as a heartless neoconservative.
But in reality the differences between Yechimovich’s social-democratic platform and Netanyahu’s more conservative stance are not so marked, and are similar to the differences that split Democrats and Republicans. Kadima has never fully articulated a distinct socioeconomic platform, while the nuances distinguishing Lapid’s socioeconomic platform from Yechimovich’s do not justify the creation of a separate party.
On security issues, Kadima has not brought to the political discourse any new ideas either. Kadima supporters such as Ariel Sharon’s confidant and adviser Dov Weissglas, claim that Sharon created the party because he felt shackled by the Likud’s ideological constraints. After implementation of the pullout from the Gaza Strip and parts of northern Samaria in 2005, Sharon was fast losing support within the Likud, though his popularity soared among the general public. This was only natural since the sort of unilateral dismantling of Jewish settlements – without receiving any Palestinian commitments – was diametrically opposed to the Likud’s ideology.
Indeed, it was Labor’s Amram Mitzna – not Sharon – who led his party into the 2003 national elections on a platform of unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. If implementation of the disengagement was so important to Sharon, he could have returned to Labor, where he began his political career.
To this day Kadima’s stance on security is indistinguishable from Labor’s. Chairman Shaul Mofaz’s peace proposal – which calls for the immediate establishment of an independent, unarmed Palestinian state in part of the West Bank and Gaza and entering negotiations with Hamas, if the terrorist organization wins another Palestinian election – could easily be adopted by Labor.
Centrist parties, such as David Ben-Gurion’s Rafi, Yigael Yadin’s Democratic Movement for Change, Avigdor Kahalani’s Third Way, and Yitzhak Mordechai and Amnon Lipkin Shahak’s Center Party, never represented substantial political or ideological positions not given expression in either the Likud or Labor. Ego and hubris seemed to be the forces behind their creation.
History has shown that centrist parties are not only superfluous, they are detrimental to political stability.
Over the past few decades the size of the two largest political parties has steadily decreased from around 40 MKs on average to fewer than 30, in large part due to the creation of various short-lived centrist parties.
Election reforms such as the raising of the 2-percent threshold for entry to the Knesset and the institution of regional elections for some Knesset seats would go a long way toward improving political stability.
But so would a good dose of humility. And it might even be in politicians’ best interests to cooperate.
A recent survey found that a Center-Left party (Labor) led by Yechimovich, Lapid and Tzipi Livni would garner 40 Knesset seats.
A Knesset resting on two strong political parties – one Center-Left and one Center-Right – would foster a more stable political environment while at the same time give expression to two clear political agendas.
With talk of early elections in the air, serious thought should be given to taking the steps necessary to make a quasi-two-party system a reality.