15. Stalemate in Israel: Change the System?

As predicted the Israel election gave neither Bibi Netanyahu nor his opponents a clear path to forming a government. Does this mean that the electoral system itself is flawed and should be scrapped?

No. Not necessarily, at least. While there are always possible reforms that might be made, the system in use excels at giving each of the diverse groups in Israel -- secular, religious, ultra-orthodox (haredi), Ashkenazi, MIzrachi, Arab, left (dovish), right (hawkish) -- a proportionate voice. In a deeply-divided society this is the only way to go.

And ordinarily the system could handle the differences: ordinarily a reasonably coherent majority could be stitched together. But these last four elections over the last two years introduced yet another axis into Israeli politics: pro-Bibi or anti-Bibi. By splitting the right (the hawks) it overloaded the system.

Right-wing and religious parties together have won a clear majority since the turn of the century, and ordinarily would have formed a stable government after any of these last four elections. But enter the Bibi factor.

Two of the right-wing parties say they won't join a government under Bibi, and a third (Yamina) is iffy about it. Even if Yamina is seduced into joining, the coalition still has only 59 seats, two short of a majority. Maybe further seduction would bring in a couple of defectors from other parties? Bibi has reportedly approached every member of one party (New Hope) with offers of high office.

There is even talk of an Arab party (the United Arab List) joining Bibi, pulling him over the top. The first Arab party in an Israeli government -- of the right! But one component of the Bibi bloc, the Religious Zionists, includes proponents of Arab emigration who refuse to sit together with an Arab party.

But the odds of an anti-Bibi coalition are even steeper. It would have to include not only the two Arab parties but also very hawkish right-wing parties. Or it would have to accommodate the deeply secularist parties, Yesh Atid and Yisrael Beitenu, together with at least some of the religious parties.

The solution, clearly, is to take Bibi out of the equation. Without Netanyahu as a capricious third axis of Israeli politics, a stable government based on the demographic reality of right/religious dominance is not only possible but inevitable. Many would dislike its policies, but it would be stable -- and democratic.

Accordingly, it has been proposed that the Knesset just elected pass a law removing a Prime Minister under indictment from office (current law provides this for other Ministers, but not the PM). The Knesset can function even if a new government has not been established, though in this case the Speaker of the Knesset -- a Bibi loyalist -- would have to be replaced.

But, on a purely negative vote against Bibi, not requiring agreement on anything else, a 61-vote majority is conceivable.

Otherwise, the likely alternative is a fifth election. But not because of the system.