Israel Elections: Political mergers needed to solve crisis

Electoral reform is an aspiration, but it is a long-term one.

Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai and Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn at the announcement on Huldai's new party, December 29, 2020 (photo credit: NESS PRODUCTIONS)
Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai and Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn at the announcement on Huldai's new party, December 29, 2020
(photo credit: NESS PRODUCTIONS)
As Israel hurtles to its fourth election in two years, there is – in the back of many people’s minds – the thought that this time it will be different; this time the nation will conclusively decide, one way or another, and a prime minister will be elected who will be able to form a solid and stable government.
But this, unfortunately, seems little more than wishful thinking.
For why should this time be any different from the previous three? Is there a new star in the political firmament, with a new, hopeful and exciting message that will galvanize voters in a way we haven’t seen over the last three election campaigns?
Unfortunately, not. With all due respect to Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai and the New Hope’s Gideon Sa’ar, they are not game changers with rousing new plans, programs or platforms.
Nor has the nation undergone a dramatic change. Are tens of thousands of people suddenly going to wake up one morning with an epiphany and dramatically change their votes from the last three times? Probably not.
In other words, it’s the same nation with the same political leaders and there is no reason to think that this time the election results will be vastly different.
And that is an awfully depressing thought, one that could mean that Israel will again be unable to form a stable government this spring, and that by the winter or fall the country’s citizens will be back at the polling booths.
Something needs to change. And since it is impossible to change the makeup of the nation – we are who we are; since there is no mesmerizing new figure on the horizon who will ride in and save the day; and since Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is not going to step quietly off center stage, something that could break the current political impasse, something else needs to give.
Some talk about electoral reform, about changing the whole system. And there are some creative ideas out there about what needs to be done, ranging from declaring the head of the largest party the prime minister to legislating reforms whereby the faction that emerges as the largest would automatically form the government.
But there are two problems with the idea of sweeping structural reform. First, Israel tried this before, in 1996, 1999 and 2001, when it instituted direct voting for the prime minister, separate from the Knesset list, in an effort to create stability. When this failed to produce the desired result, the reform was scrapped and the country went back to the old way.
Second, this type of structural change would take years to legislate and implement. But Israel right now does not have the luxury of endless time to wait without a stable government to think and plan strategically.
Electoral reform is an aspiration, but it is a long-term one. Israel needs a short-term solution to extract it from its current political mess. And what it needs immediately is for the mid- and small-sized parties to voluntarily merge and present the country with clear alternatives.
The differences on the Center-Left between Yesh Atid, the Labor Party, Meretz, Huldai’s Israelis Party and other smaller parties are minimal. If all those parties run separately, tens of thousands of votes will be wasted, as some will not make it over the electoral threshold. If these parties merge into one, it would make the possibility of forming a government that much simpler.
The same is true on the Right. Do Sa’ar and Yamina’s Naftali Bennett really need to run at the head of two separate parties? Are their ideological differences that great?
If, in the next election, two parties would capture 30 or 40 seats, they would have an easier task of forming a government together, rather than if they would each win seats in the mid-teens and have to cobble together agreements with not just one or two other parties, but with a slew – each pulling in a different direction.
Once a government is formed with two or three larger parties, then the discussions toward electoral reform could begin in earnest and with alacrity, as it is clear to all that the current situation is simply unsustainable.