Israel’s Minister of Transportation, Yisrael Katz, says, “We will replace the governing system before the upcoming elections”, according to Ynet.
Having spent some months in Israel in 2010, partly to work on political reform proposals, I have some idea how tough a nut this is. So I don’t necessarily expect anything big to happen in the 21 months or less leading up to the next general election.
Areas of reform would supposedly include raising the threshold for a party to enter the Knesset, limiting the number of ministers and deputies, increasing the number of votes required to for a vote of a no confidence, and adopting regional elections.
Some of these are good ideas, some bad. For example, raising the number of votes needed for the Knesset to dismiss a government would, by definition, mean replacing the parliamentary system of government. If more than 61 votes (out of 120) are required, then a government could lose the confidence of a majority–the situation that would lead to a change of government or early elections under parliamentarism–yet remain in office.
If government originates from the parliamentary majority, but is not dependent upon it for its survival, then the regime is what I call assembly-independent, not parliamentary. This is one of the “mixed” systems, in that it does not have either “fusion” of both origin and survival (parliamentarism), not “separation” of both (presidentialism), but rather mixes and matches. So I have to say that it would be quite good for political science if Israel would do this, as the country has already had the opposite combination–separation of origin but fusion of survival–during the phase of directly elected prime ministers from 1996 to 2001. I could imagine writing some interesting papers! But I doubt such a system is a good idea for Israel. It seems it would reduce, rather than increase, accountability.
Raising the threshold, which is currently 2%, seems like a good idea. However, as always, even a good idea has its downside. It just so happens that some of the parties that regularly reside right around the current threshold are the parties that attract mainly Arab votes. For instance, Balad has hovered between 1.9% and 2.5% since 1999, the United Arab List 2.1% and 3.4%, and Hadash 2.6% and 3.3%. A threshold that threatens these parties (individually, and it is not a certainty that they would merge) is problematic, to say the least. If one wanted to force one of the Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) parties, United Torah Judaism, to direct its votes to someone else’s list, the threshold would need to be as high as 5% (UTJ has had 3.7-4.7% during this time, with some upward tendency). So raising the threshold is not so simple, after all. Besides, even with a 5% threshold, the problem that Israel has as many as five parties capable of getting 10% but not any of them would necessarily get much over 30% in any given election, would remain.
The Israeli system needs reform, but what sort of reforms is not a straightforward question.