Analysis: Early elections nothing new in Israel’s political system

While early elections may sound dramatic to foreign ears, they are par for the course in Israel. 

By Daniel Krygier, World Israel News

Israel is heading towards early elections in April 2019. For the uninitiated it sounds dramatic. What it really points to is the need for reform.

Israel’s political left likes to insinuate that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called elections to avoid ongoing legal probes, but early elections have been a chronic feature of Israeli politics long before Netanyahu.

In fact, few Israeli governments have survived for a full term. This has been true for both right-leaning and left-leaning Israeli governments.

According to most current polls, the majority of Israelis lean towards the political center and right. By contrast, the Israeli political left has been in decline ever since Yitzhak Rabin’s Labor-led government in the 1990s.

Despite its demographic advantage, the Israeli right has, to a large extent, failed to dramatically impact Israel’s political direction. The big elephant in the room is Israel’s highly fractured political system.

Although Israel has always been plagued by small parties, the larger parties commanded more votes. When the Likud Party first took power in 1977 it garnered 43 votes. In 2015, with a right-wing electorate divided among smaller parties, it mustered only 30. As a result, any future Israeli government depends on complex coalition building of a growing number of medium and smaller political parties.

The next election will include a new centrist party headed by former Chief of Staff Benny Ganz. It will also include a newly announced right-wing party headed by former Jewish Home arty leader Naftali Bennett and his political colleague Ayelet Shaked.

It remains to be seen whether these new parties will attract mainly voters from the center-left or the right. What is certain is that the winner in the next elections will face the same set of problems and challenges as past Israeli governments.

While forming an Israeli coalition government is challenging, it pales in comparison to maintaining a functioning and effective government. Under Israel’s current political system, small coalition parties can torpedo a government by leaving it any time they wish. As a result, the majority of Israeli voters are often held hostage to a vocal and often radical minority that puts party politics ahead of Israel’s national interests.

The latest Netanyahu government actually managed to survive far longer than many pundits had predicted.

Ultimately, chronic political bickering and party politics ultimately hurts Israeli voters. It also undermines effective governance that Israel needs in order to meet domestic and international challenges.

Any real improvement will only come after Israel has reformed its archaic political system.