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Plus a great undertaking: to reform the electoral system

by Gidi Grinstein

January 22, 2013 | 4:34 pm

Supporters of Yair Lapid's Yesh Atid (There is a Future) party celebrate at the party's headquarters in Tel Aviv on Jan. 23. Photo by Ammar Awad/Reuters

Supporters of Yair Lapid's Yesh Atid (There is a Future) party celebrate at the party's headquarters in Tel Aviv on Jan. 23. Photo by Ammar Awad/Reuters

Here are a few thoughts (scroll down for my personal commitment) in the immediate aftermath of tonight’s election results per the exit polls (results may change over coming 24 hours. As you can see every MK can tilt the balance:

-          Likud-Beitenu (Netanyahu) – 33
-          Yesh Atid (Lapid) – 18
-          Labor (Yechimovitz) – 16
-          HaBait HaYehudi (Bennet) – 12
-          Shass – 12
-          Meretz – 7
-          HaTnuah (Livni) – 6
-          Haredim – 6
-          Arab parties – ~10
-          Kadima (Mofaz) – 0

1. While Lapid’s Yesh Atid emerges as the biggest surprising success, there is no clear winner to the elections. Netanyahu may have a blocking-majority with the ultra-orthodox and the far-right, but this is not a governing coalition. He seems to be the 'tragic' winner-loser tonight (beyond the decimation of Kadima, which was expected): he will be the PM, but the Likud party was downsized within its union with Lieberman’s Israel Beitenufrom 27 to 20 MKs.

2. There is no  emerging coalition that can deal with the three burning issues of budget cuts (huge deficit in 2012), the Palestinian issue and equality in military service. Lapid’s key issue is equality in service, which the orthodox cannot agree to. Labor’s economic policies are unacceptable to Netanyahu. And most Likud MKs and HaBait HaYehudi reject the notion of Palestinian statehood and therefore cannot subscribe to the basic requisites of a political process with the Palestinians that is credibly based on the principle of two-states-for-two-peoples. Furthermore, Netanyahu’s no. 1 issue is Iran, which requires huge budgets and good relations with Obama.

3. USA is likely to play hard ball with Netanyahu. Beyond the apparent personal dislike between both chief executives, Washington perceives the stagnation on the Palestinian issue to compromise American interests in the region, particularly the coalition-building against Iran and its radical allies. USA is likely to demand credible commitment by Netanyahu to advancing the two-state reality with the Palestinians in the West Bank sooner rather than later.

4. Therefore, Israel’s coming government is likely to be highly unstable and possibly short lived. Any coalition will have multiple conflicting agendas, who understand this instability and will electioneer from the very beginning of the tenure. The counter-force that may keep the Knesset in place for a while the dramatic attrition rate among politicians: more than half of the MKs of the 18th Knesset will not serve in the 19th Knesset. In other words, the appetite of the incumbents and newly elected politicians for another election may be non-existent. But even that can hold only for so long.

5. There is of course the possibility that the coming Knesset and government will do great things for Israel on some of these critical challenges.However, it will require political skills and leadership that are exceptional, particularly when 3 of the 5 large parties – Yechmovitz, Lapid and Bennet – are highly inexperienced, and the latter two never served in office or Parliament. 

6. My hope is that the lasting legacy of the coming Knesset will be a reform of the electoral system, which is the chief reason for this highly unstable political outcome. My opinion on the nature of the required change – direct appointment of the head of the largest party to PM – is detailed in the attached email, which I sent out two weeks ago.

7. Reut has been in the process of restructuring itself to increase its reach and impact in response to the emerging challenges facing Israel by mobilizing Israel’s serving elite to tackle our society’s toughest challenges. The results of the elections highlight how, relevant, vital and urgent Reut’s new approach is.  More on this issue to come shortly. Please follow Reut on Facebook (The Reut Institute) and on Twitter (reutinstitute) to stay updated.

8. My personal commitment is to reestablish Yesodot (Foundations), which is a group that I launched in 2002 to reform the electoral system. At the time, in 2004, I reached the conclusion that the time was not right for such a reform. Now, I believe there is ripeness. You can follow me on this issue, as well as on other matters relating to Reut, on Facebook (Gidi Grinstein) and twitter (gidigrinstein).

With all of the above said, let’s cross our fingers and pray that, when the dust settles, Israel will be on a new path of growth and security.

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