Israel government 2021

A new Israeli coalition government is set to be invested with authority by the Knesset this coming Sunday. Once it is sworn in, it will end the consecutive twelve years of tenure by outgoing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Likud Party. Netanyahu will remain in the Knesset as leader of the opposition.

The government is formed upon the agreement of eight parties, and will have as its parliamentary support the bare majority of 61 Knesset members. It is set up under the rotation provisions that were passed into the constitution (more technically, The Basic Law: Government) on the occasion of the formation of Netanyahu’s government arrangement with Benny Gantz of the Blue and White Party in 2020.

Under the agreements for this government, the first Prime Minister will be Naftali Bennett of the Yamina Party, while Yair Lapid of Yesh Atid serves as Alternate Prime Minister. The rotation will occur in August, 2023. From that point to the scheduled end of the Knesset term in November, 2025, Lapid will be Prime Minister (and Bennet Alternate). As allowed under the constitutional provisions rotation, Yamina and Yesh Atid will each head a “bloc” that is granted equal powers in the cabinet, and in which even when serving as PM, the leader of one bloc can not dismiss a minister who is from the other bloc.

A good overview of the various agreements is available in the Times of Israel. Many of the facts I refer to in this post are from that article; others are from various ToI live blog editions of recent weeks or other media sources. I will comment on some of the specific policy or personnel decisions below, but I first want to emphasize several interesting features about the balance of power among the parties in this set of agreements.

First of all, it probably should be classified as a minority government. One of the parties, Ra’am, will have no ministers although it will have a Deputy Ministerial position (within the Prime Minister’s Office).* If we do not count Ra’am as part of the government, then the parties actually in government have just 57 seats, and Ra’am is an outside support party. Normally I would say this makes it clearly a minority government, because a majority government implies the parties that comprise the parliamentary majority are all represented around the cabinet table. On the other hand, I think most of the time “outside support” parties do not have deputy ministers, either. Moreover, in Israel there have been parties in previous governments that had only deputy ministers and yet were typically counted as majority coalitions. I am referring to the Haredi party, UTJ, often refusing to take senior ministerial positions but having Deputy Ministers. I take those as special cases (due to the UTJ’s arms-length relationship with the state itself, other than when it is subsidizing their organizations and communities.) I think this is a “normal” minority government relationship, at least when compared to the previous UTJ deals. I am open to other interpretations, however, as this is an unusual and innovative arrangement. [* As of Sunday, it is no longer clear that Ra’am will have the deputy ministerial position. Apparently, under the law on rotation governments, this would have to be noted when the government is introduced before the Knesset, and the party holding such a post has to be classified into one of the blocs. It was not mentioned, per my understanding from Israeli Elections Live, a very useful Twitter account I follow, so Ra’am may have declined the deputy ministerial post.]

The equal power for the two blocs is especially striking. Each party is designated as belonging to the Yesh Atid bloc or the Yamina bloc. And right here we have more evidence for the accuracy of counting it as a minority government, because Ra’am is not designated as a member of either bloc. More strikingly, only two parties are in the Yamina bloc: obviously Yamina itself and New Hope. Together, they account for only 12 seats. That is 10% of the Knesset and only 21% of the government parties’ coalition basis (i.e. the 57 seats held by cabinet parties). Yet they get 50% of the coalition power, given various veto provisions granted to each bloc–the previously mentioned ability to prevent even future PM Lapid from firing Yamina or New Hope ministers, and some specific policy vetoes provided for in the coalition agreements.

In term of ministers, Yesh Atid starts with 7, Yamina 3 in addition to PM, New Hope and Blue and White 4 each, and 3 each for Yisrael Beytenu, Labor, and Meretz. That is 28 ministers, and thus Yesh Atid has 25% of the cabinet despite 29.8% of the coalition’s parliamentary basis (17 seats of the 57). So much for formateur’s bonus–it was Lapid who held the mandate to form the government (hence the formateur). Yamina’s share of parliamentary basis is only 10.5%, yet it gets 14.3% as well as, more importantly, veto power. Quite a good deal. [My numbers here are updated; the full list of ministers is in a ToI article from 12 June.]

Bennett was able to achieve such a good deal precisely because he had strong leverage. He had recommended himself as prime minister in the formal process by which each party head meets with the President after the election. He made himself pivotal by repeatedly stating he preferred a right-wing coalition with Likud. Such a government was not possible from the parliamentary arithmetic unless New Hope (made up of the most recent set of Likud defectors) also joined, or else if both the Islamist Ra’am and the ultranationalist Religious Zionist Party were also in the coalition. None of these ever looked likely given repeated statements by those leaders, so we could question whether Bennett was really pivotal in the technical sense. (Need actual options to pivot towards in order to be pivotal.) Bennett’s real alternative was to allow a second election later this year instead of a government. And Netanyahu had dangled promises of high list positions on a merged Likud-Yamina list and ministerial positions in attempt to pull Bennett away from the “change” bloc. It is evident that Lapid and the others took this threat seriously, and prioritized ousting Netanyahu now over going back to the polls (again). 

As already noted in detail in this space by Or Tuttnauer the small size of the prime minister’s party will be extremely unusual. It is a gamble by Bennett, given the usual electoral penalty to governing, and the feeling of betrayal by many of his supporters for joining a government with left-wing parties and backed by an Arab party. But it is a gamble that is probably sensible for him to take, in order to erase the notion that he is just Netanyahu’s subordinate and to exercise actual political power. The post by Tuttnauer also offers evidence that such a small and ideologically extreme party may be more likely to gain votes (perhaps because power makes voters perceive it as more moderate), defying the usual cost of both governing and extremism.

Another unusual feature of the coalition is that the (initial) Prime Minister’s party will have no signed agreements with any of the parties in his cabinet, except that of the Alternate Prime Minister. This must be quite unusual, comparatively! The reason for this is that it is formally Lapid who is presenting the government, even though he will not initially be PM. So his party has a series of bilateral agreements with the other six parties, but Yamina does not.

Several of the policy commitments are of special interest. This government will be one of the few not to include Haredi (ultra-orthodox) parties. As such, it promises to make several changes to religion-state issues, including passing a long-delayed law on drafting more Haredim into the military, reforming the process of selecting the state’s chief rabbis, placing Yamina and New Hope members in positions influencing the selection of judges of the Jewish religious courts, and expanding the opening of stores and running of public transportation on Shabbat (issues demanded by Yisrael Beytenu). The deal with Yisrael Beytenu also states that the government will develop the previously promised but then cancelled egalitarian prayer platform at the Western Wall. In other aspects of religion-state issues, the coalition guidelines call for maintaining the status quo and giving the Yamina party a veto.

The government will split the positions of state prosecutor and attorney general. It will seek to pass a Basic Law amendment imposing a two-term limit on the Prime Minister (as discussed in an earlier post). It will seek to enact a Basic Law for legislation (on which I have seen no more details).

Additional parties can be added to the government, but both the PM and his Alternate have to agree. The deal with Yisrael Beytenu states that this party also has a veto on additional parties joining. At issue here is the desire of at least Bennett to bring the Haredi parties on board, to sever their relationship with Likud and stabilize the coalition, reducing its dependence on Ra’am. Given that Yisrael Beytenu is the most secular party in terms of its policy positions on religion and state, it is obvious why it wants to be able to determine the terms on which ultra-orthodox parties might join later.

The deals with Labor and Meretz mention advancing rights of the LGBT community. This is particularly significant because the coalition’s support party is Islamist and very vocally opposes gay rights. But it apparently put this aside to advance its other priorities.

Those priorities for the Ra’am have been addressed in what could be a highly significant set of policies. There will be substantial spending aimed at curbing the very high crime rates in the Arab cities and towns, advancing public works projects for the Arab sector, recognizing three specific Bedouin villages in the Negev desert, temporarily freezing housing demolitions in unrecognized villages, and freezing an existing law that seeks to prevent illegal building. Being pivotal—Ra’am was publicly negotiating with Netanyahu over similar concessions before the formateur role passed to Lapid—again has payoffs. In this case, not mostly in personnel, but in policies the Arab sector needs addressed. Ra’am also gets some personnel benefits. I already mentioned the Deputy Minister in the PMO. It also gets to chair the Knesset Interior Committee and the Arab Affairs Committee.

On issues of relations with Palestinians, there are a few points of note. The agreement with Meretz—the most leftist of the Zionist parties—states that there will be no unilateral moves with respect to the Palestinians. (Notably, there is no related clause in the deal with Ra’am.) Otherwise, the government has some guidelines that would be consistent with the right’s preferences: Ensuring that in Area C (the part of the West Bank that the Oslo Accords assign to full Israeli civil and military control) there will be funds for the Defense Ministry to carry out enforcement against illegal Palestinian construction; and increasing budget allocation to Ariel University (in a city deep within Samaria/West Bank).

The question on everyone’s mind is whether the government will last. And, of course, I should make the obligatory note that it is not even a government yet, as it still must not face even one defector in the Knesset investiture vote on Sunday. (It has been reported that two MKs from the other Arab parties in the Joint List might abstain, which would give it a cushion, but not one Lapid or especially Bennett would want to rely on; most of the Joint List members will vote against, thus siding with Likud, Religious Zionism and the Haredi parties in opposition.)

Objectively, an 8-party, 61-seat coalition (counting the support party) in a 120-member parliament, spanning nearly the entire ideological range of Israeli party system should be considered inherently unstable. Nonetheless, I would not assume it will be hobbled from the start. The emerging government has already weathered the biggest stress one could imagine for a potential cooperation between right-wing parties and an Arab party in the form of the 11-day war with Hamas and the horrific inter-communal violence within Israel during that time. If such events had happened after the government was up and running, they might well have forced its breakup. That they happened while it was being negotiated allowed the coalition to pass a stress test at a time when it could still be called off easily.

The other major stress the coalition has seemingly already come through is the risk of defections. Netanyahu has been very openly trying to entice members of New Hope and Yamina to defect from the emerging government. One has done so; that is why I counted above Yamina as having six seats when it won seven in the election. Others engaged in some public agony over what they would do, even delaying the formal investiture of the government by not being willing to join a vote to replace the Knesset speaker before the date the incumbent speaker, of Likud, set it. At this late date, it is unlikely there will be surprise defectors on the day of the vote. There just is not much Likud can offer an individual member, given the overall parliamentary arithmetic. The bargaining process has been a test of Bennett’s ability as a party leader and of Yamina as a party in any meaningful sense–we typically assume parties in parliamentary democracies are unitary actors at least in the questions of entering or leaving governments (a strict and simplifying assumption that normally holds). Yamina and Bennett probably are passing that test, the one already announced defector notwithstanding. 

Most of all, the coalition is likely to be stabilized by the basic threat of a return of Netanyahu and the likelihood that many of its component parties—most of all Bennett’s—would suffer significant electoral punishment if they had to face the electorate before significant policy gains could be realized. Sometimes very narrow parliamentary majorities are actually more stable than oversized ones. Ultimately, unless a party has an expectation of gaining by an election or defecting to Likud’s side, the government can last. In the meantime, it will matter what Likud does in opposition. If it cleaves to Netanyahu, as currently seems likely, these parties will not want to go back to partnership with it. Were Likud to replace its leader, then calculations in New Hope and Yamina could change.

The other thing to watch in the coming week or so will be what further amendments to Basic Laws the coalition passes to help ensure its stability. There are several in the works, but details remain sketchy.

While the is a highly unusual government, it really just might work!

31 thoughts on “Israel government 2021

  1. Note: there are probably typos and other errors, including some I might even have caught myself. However, I am having a significant problem with the Word Press editor, whereby it grays out much of the screen when I try to edit the post. So for now, I can’t easily edit it. Please be patient and understanding!

  2. In PR systems, how common or uncommon is it for a government to exclude the plurality winner of the election? Especially when the winning party got 75% more votes and seats than the runner-up (30 versus 17)?

    • I don’t know the precise frequency. It is unusual, but not extremely rare.

      Most cases probably occur where there is a pre-election alliance involving the second largest party and other smaller parties that collectively win a majority of seats. Obviously not the case here.

      Denmark recently had a government headed by the third largest party, supported from outside by the second largest, with the largest in opposition.

      These things happen now and then, but the new Israeli government will be a pretty extreme case.

      • I might add that such governments should happen from time to time, inasmuch as the parliamentary principle is the government must be supported by (or at least tolerated by) the majority, and there’s no necessary reason why the largest party must be part of that majority if it lacks a majority on its own.

        Even so, it does not happen all that often. And that 30:17 difference is really extreme! Then again, a plurality party having fewer than half the seats needed for a majority is pretty extreme, too.

      • Thanks. Incidentally, in the second sentence of my first post, “winning party” should be “plurality winner”. Unlike some other platforms, WordPress doesn’t allow you to edit comments once you have clicked on “Post Comment”.

      • In 2009 Likud famously recieved 1 seat less than the now-defunct Kadima (centrist) party, but still got to form the govenment, the main reaon beeing the support of the ultra-orthodox parties meant it was not possible for Kadima to form a government, and thus other parties also flocked to Likud’s camp. But obviously what happened now is quite in another magnitude of exceptionality (but so also is having 4 elections in less than 2 years).

    • Bob, I understood it that way, but the clarification is good.

      As for editing, when I had the blog on my own website, I had a plug-in that allowed editing comments. But now that I am at the mercy of Word Press and their templates, that option seems not to exist. If I find a way to add it, I will.

      (I took it off my own website because the hosting service was making life difficult and so I decided to take the easy way out–make WP the host.)

  3. A few small points in reply:
    “I am referring to the Haredi party, UTJ, often refusing to take senior ministerial positions but having Deputy Ministers.” The UTJ’s members of the government may be called “deputy ministers” and take only limited part in cabinet meetings, but in running their departments they are for all intents and purposes the minister in charge. The PM is officially made the minister for the relevant department, but is the minister in name only.

    “the (initial) Prime Minister’s party will have no signed agreements with any of the parties in his cabinet, except that of the Alternate Prime Minister. This must be quite unusual, comparatively!” I could be wrong, but I think the whole setup of having bilateral agreements between parties rather than one big coalition agreement is quite unusual in itself (coalition agreements specifically – I think confidence-and-supply agreements with minority governments are fairly often between the ruling party/coalition and individual support parties).

    “placing Yamina and New Hope members in positions influencing the selection of judges of the Jewish religious courts” My understanding is that the committee in question is in charge of selecting judges to all state religious courts, not just the Rabbinic ones.

    “the coalition guidelines call for maintaining the status quo and giving the Yamina party a veto” What is most interesting here is the formalisation of the veto. Basically any party in a minimum-winning coalition has a veto. I wonder what the is reason for formalising this.

    • Neither Yamina nor New Hope alone can bring down the government by leaving. The government would be left with 55 seats, including Ra’am, but you’d need the entire opposition, including the Joint List, to back a constructive vote of no confidence (fat chance) or a dissolution (unlikely for Yamina as they’ll be wiped out electorally unless this government works).

      So this allows them to block legislation /decisions they don’t like without the threat of bringing down the government being their only recourse.

      There is also the unlikely but theoretically possible scenario of the new government bringing in both Haredi parties (whose 16 seats outweigh the 12 of Yamina-New Hope bloc) and then further down the road everyone but Yamina and New Hope trying to freeze those two out of the government. Because the veto and the coalition agreements are legally binding, the Yamina-New Hope bloc would retain a veto no matter how big the government gets, even if their votes are no longer essential to the government retaining a majority.

      Of course, as the Bibi-Gantz agreements of last year showed us, oftentimes these agreements aren’t worth the paper they’re written on and the formalization is only for one side to try to have proof that the other side has broken the agreement when it inevitably gets broken.

      • “Because the veto and the coalition agreements are legally binding, the Yamina-New Hope bloc would retain a veto no matter how big the government gets, even if their votes are no longer essential to the government retaining a majority.” What does “legally binding” mean here? If Lapid were to bring the Haredim parties into the government in order to freeze Yamina and New Hope out, would Yamina and New Hope really be able to seek legal remedies?

      • Well, if 61 MKs support a new government, they can pass a constructive vote of no confidence to replace the government with a new one with a new coalition agreement, so the previous one would no longer be valid. And if there are 61 MKs who want to dissolve the Knesset, that would also work. I also believe that clauses in the agreement can be modified by a simple majority in the Knesset (for instance, there was a vote to extend the agreed-upon budget deadline that narrowly failed last December), but could be wrong on that part.

        However, if there isn’t aren’t 61 votes for either a new government or a dissolution, than the existing coalition agreement is legally binding. So I could foresee the Haredi parties joining the government (because Bennett and Lapid want to sever their close tie to Likud, and perhaps get a little breathing room considering they don’t even have 61 clear votes right now) and that there eventually being a scenario where 61 votes within the government support something, but one of the “veto” parties doesn’t. At that point, unless the 61 votes want to form a new government, the veto still holds.

        The lingering memory of the spectacular failure of Shimon Peres’ “dirty trick” in 1990 makes me think that a new center-left-Haredi government with a coalition agreement is unlikely. If there were an attempt to form a completely new government, the only one I could foresee would be a post-Bibi right-wing government.

    • On coalition agreements elsewhere, I also understand that bilateral agreements when there are three or more parties are not the norm. However, in New Zealand, most coalition agreements I know of are bilateral–each partner (often support parties to a minority government BUT with “ministers outside cabinet”) signs a deal with the PM’s party, and each contains a clause to the effect that nothing in this agreement precludes any agreements the PM’s party might have with other parties. I am not sure if the literature on coalition agreements, which has grown a lot lately, has addressed this question of bilateral vs. multilateral agreements, when one or the other approach is chosen, or what the consequences are.

      Agree on the other points and questions.

      Specifically on the religious courts, I was indeed wondering about the state Sharia courts (and others), but the article I was referencing mentioned only the Jewish courts.

    • I agree that this writer might be on to something important. Is there academic work on the institutional determinants of cabinet size? Or did the author of the Times of Israel article come up with this on his own. I would think this might be related to Prof. Shugart’s new book on parliamentary committees.

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  5. The Israel parliament is too small according to the cube root and should be increase to 208 members instead of 120. What is the reason for the size being set at 120? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cube_root_rule

    Should the electoral threshold be increase to 4% or does that not do anything?

    Should Israel an anti defection law prohibiting any member of a party to defect? Do anti defection laws work in practice? Israel has a closed party list system, the seat belongs the party, not the individual whereas that is the case for FPTP, and the STV vote systems.

    • It’s 120 because it was set at 120 when the elections to Israel’s Constituent Assembly, which later transformed itself into the first Knesset, were held, and it hasn’t been increased since.

      A threshold increase without any other change in the electoral system would do very little. They have more fragmentation than they did when the threshold was lower. Only Ra’am would have failed to cross a 4% threshold, and with the higher threshold they probably would have run on the Joint List. I could imagine a permanent Labor-Meretz merger in that case as well, but overall you still have the same challenges, with slightly fewer parties to deal with.

      And I haven’t seen the literature on anti-defection laws, but I’d imagine that they would do very little. If there’s an anti-defection law, I presume one simply waits until the parliament is dissolved before defecting. Perhaps if a law tried to allow party leadership to kick rebels out of their caucus, and therefore out of parliament, and replace them with more pliable members further down the list, it could be enforceable, but it also sounds deeply problematic. Under Israeli law, the mandate belongs to the individual, not the party; even under the Norwegian Law, MKs who resign in order to serve as ministers receive their seats back if they cease to be ministers, I’m pretty sure.

      I also don’t think defections have been a major issue in Israeli politics; they certainly happen, but most commonly it’s when a party is divided on whether or not to join a government, and I’m not sure making it harder to form a government is a wise choice in the Israeli context.

      • The number of 120 seats was chosen because the Great Assembly (Knesset HaGadola) which was the first Rabbinic assembly leading the nation after the end of the Babylonian exile had 120 members.

    • I am sure there are such projections. I guess the question is how high we can expect Arab turnout realistically to go. In 2020, it was around 65%, its highest in about 20 years, and the Joint List (which then included Ra’am) got 15 seats. Overall turnout was something like 71%, so there was still a gap, but less than usual.

      It is important to keep in mind that some Arab voters vote for Zionist parties, which sometimes have members of the community on their list. And there is one influential branch of the Islamic movement that always recommends a boycott, and so squeezing out a higher turnout is going to be hard.

      • A quick estimate based on this data from the Dayan Center (https://dayan.org/content/analysis-arab-voting-patterns-elections-24th-knesset) suggests that if Arabs had voted at the same rate as non-Arabs in the 2021 election (72% instead of 49.5%), and the new voters voted along the same lines as those that did turn out, then the Likud would have lost 2 seats and UTJ, Yesh Atid, Blue and White, and Meretz would have each lost 1. Ra’am would have gained 3 seats, as would have the Joint List (Balad would get 2 of those, bringing them up to 3; Hadash would get 1, bringing them up to 4, and Ta’al would remain at 2 seats).

        The 8 parties that make up the current government would have won 62 seats, minus Amichai Chikli, so they’d be in the exact same position, except Ra’am would have gained 3 seats from the center-left. There would not have been an alternative coalition; Bibi still would have needed both Ra’am and Religious Zionism to coexist in the same government.

        There would have been a 61 member coalition of Yesh Atid, Blue and White, Yisrael Beiteinu, Labor, Meretz, Ra’am, Hadash, Ta’al, and New Hope, but I don’t know if Gideon Sa’ar would have been willing to go for that had the option existed. It’s still unclear whether right-wing parties will see all of the Arab parties as having been “koshered,” or just Ra’am.

        Of course, if there is increased Arab turnout, there probably would have been some catalyst; the only one I could really imagine is if Ra’am is perceived as successful in government and gains votes as a result, which would skew the results above even more in their favor and make them a regular king-maker between left and right.

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  7. Some further comments on issues discussed in this thread:

    Coalitions with “outside support” – ultra-orthodox parties supporting the coalition without gettimg ministirial posts are not considered in Israel as “outside support” and neither is Ra’am participation in this coalition. In both cases the “outside” party does not wish to participate in the cabinet (though UTJ has changed its position on this) either because they have a problem with too close a relationship with the state itself or as a way of not fully taking responsibility for things a cabinet must sometimes do (such as waging war). But they have formal coalition agreements and are theoretically bound to vote with the government (“coalition-discipline” as the term is used in Israel) on most issues.

    Coalition agreements – in Israel the standard is to have several bilateral agreements between the party forming the coalition and retaining the primiership and each of its junior partners. This case is unusual because of the legal structure were all such bilaterla agreements are subordinate to the Yamina-Yesh Atid agreement. So most of the LGBT rights issues included in the agreements with Meretz, are not realistically going to be implemented because Yamina (and Ra’am) are not bound by this agreement. It is a very bizzare legal structure intended to make it possible for each party to claim they have “won” on issues when in fact they have not…. Under Israeli law coalition agreements are not intemselves legally binding an cannot be enforced through court. They are of course to a degree politically binding but as recent history shows (Gantz-Netanyahu agreement being violated almost as soon as it was signed) – their importance is dependant on the parties’ relative political power and their goodwill more than it does on their legal precision.

    Committee for selcting judges for religious courts – there are different committies for each type of court. It should be noted that such courts only have jurisdiction on marriage and divoce matters (and even there the secular courts have certain authority on economic issues and asset splitiing).

    Veto power – in the sweeping “constitutional” changes implemented by the previos Knesset in order to facilitate the Gantz-Netanyahu government, the Basic Law: Government was amended to include the “rotation government” insitution, which also include a mechanism for haveing equal voting power in the cabinet for each “block” identifying with each of the 2 “rotating PMs”. the details are not very clear and should be implemented in the government’s by-laws.

    Constitution and Basic Law: Legislation: iIn the previous paragraph, I have put in “constitutional” in brackets because the weakness of the Israeli consitutional system was deminstrated in the matter of “rotation government” case as never before. Israel does not have a constitution in the regular sense. The constituent assembly elected in 1949 decided to rename itself “the first Knesset” and to pass on the task of forming a constitution to future Knessets, which would enact “basic laws” that will eventually become the consituition. The process continues to this day. The supreme court at one point, in the 1990s, secided it has enough basic laws before it to treat it as a constitution and declared any regular law cannot contradict the basic laws. But the basic laws themselves can theoretically be changed at any given moment by regular vote. This has been done in recent years for momentary political goals, most famously with the “rotation government” institution put in place by the previous Knesset. Recently the supreme court took a very bold step forward and declared it can nullify even parts of a basic-law, when those were enacted using the contituent power in bad faith. This is very controversial. There has long been a talk about giving the Knesset a power to override a decision by the supreme court to nullify a legislation because it contradicts a basic law – and this is what the basic law: Legislation is intended to do.

    • Thank you very much, Dror, these are really helpful details.

      On the question of outside support vs. majority coalition, I understand what you are saying about the Israeli context. However, I am pretty certain that I would not be an outlier among my comparative politics colleagues in coding this as a minority government, given the absence of ministers for one of the parties, without which the cabinet’s basis is under 50%. (Even apart from the fact that it was voted in by exactly half the Knesset, not a majority.) I would not code the past UTJ formal non-participation at senior ministerial level as making that party an outside supporter (and I do not think anyone would disagree). But this new government seems to me like a clear-cut case of outside support, even though I completely understand the point about how it is understood under Israeli law and practice. These coding decisions are sometimes not straightforward, and for comparative analysis, sometimes judgment calls have to be made for specific cases. (See also New Zealand and its “ministers outside cabinet” which is an interesting gray area.)

      As I noted in an earlier comment, New Zealand’s coalition deals are also bilateral. I wish I know how common that was in other countries with coalitions (or outside-support deals) consisting of more than two parties.

      To my knowledge, coalition agreements are never legally binding anywhere. The Israeli rotational/parity agreements are exceptional in that they are grounded in law, even if the question of enforceability remains murky.

    • I’m not entirely sure what it means to have a “constitution in the regular sense”.

      If it means it has to be a single document, well, that is not the case in Sweden, France, or Germany.

      If it means it cannot be changed by majority vote of the assembly, Indonesia and Colombia are out, too.

      If it means it overrides other laws, well, as you said, the Supreme Court holds that the Basic Law does just that, and even before the 1990’s they held that with regards to the entrenched parts of the Basic Law which the Basic Laws themselves state to be subject to change only by 61 MKs. Arguably that makes Israel’s Basic Law more like a “regular” constitution (in this specific aspect) than that of the Netherlands or Switzerland, where the courts are constitutionally forbidden to review statutes for unconstitutionality.

      • I am hardly an expert on constitutional law in Israel, let alone in other countries.
        My meaning was that the constitutional instruments in Israel are evolving, that their concrete status is debatable and evolving and that the whole structure is extremly flexible. Maybe this is not entirely unique to Israel and indeed maybe the statement was incorrect in the strict comperative-law sense. But I want to explain what I meant in the Israeli context.

        Its true that starting with the 1970s the supreme court decided that it has the power to nullify acts that were contradicting a certain entranched section in Basic Law: The Knesset that required 61 MKs to be changed. But only if those acts were not passed by 61 majority. The supreme court held that any regular law passed by such a majority can override the basic law.

        Then in 1995 the supreme court decided that the Basic Laws as a whole were a “constitution” that regular acts cannot override – regardless of majority (the famous Bank HaMizrachi decision). This was called by the court itself “the constitutional revolution” (and by its critics – “the consitutional coup”). But since the basic laws themselves are not entranched for the most part, the constitution is very flexible. Any Knesset at any majority can theoretically enact basic laws or amendments with immidiate effect.

        For instance a part of the Gantz-Netanyahu agreement of 2020 was to enact an amendment whereby a Knesset member that vacated his/her seat (in order to become a minister or otherwise) would then be replaced not by the first candidate of the same list in the last election not yet a member, but by the first candidate of the same list not yet a memeber, ONLY IF HE/SHE ARE OF THE SAME FACTION of the vacating MK. That was agreed in order to accomadate for the situation that the Kachol-Lavan list was now split between pro- and against-government factions. That is almost like changing the results of the elections after they have taken place! The supreme court hinted that it would be very dificult to approve such change and it was abvandoned. But the supreme court’s power to override such a change had no “simple” legal theory to back it. Eventually the change was not implemented, but some other piece of so-called “constitutional” amendment regarding the budget was passed in 2020 that the supreme court enventually decided was “misuse of consitutional power”. That legal theory, giving the court power to override the constitution itself, has many critics.

        I find that a constitution that cannot guarantee some form of stability to the “rules of the game” themselves, but can rather be manipulated to advance momentary political advantages by simple majorities (or a 50%+1 majority at best), without even having to wait another election to be implemented – is a weak constitutional structure. Again, maybe not unique. But under the current political enviorment where it seems there are no “moral inhibitions” to gaming the system – it’s a problem.

      • Thank you, Dror, I think you state it very clearly, and your general summary of the situation is far more meaningful than the usual cliche’s thrown around to describe it!

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