Photo: Sebastian Sheiner
Does the Knesset need changing?
Photo: Sebastian Sheiner

It's not the system that needs changing

Israel's political system is fine. It's the politicians that need changing

More than a few parties, including Ariel Sharon's Kadima, will use the coming election campaign to wave the flag of "changing the system of government in Israel."


Of course, no one actually intends to carry out such a program, but the main question is not whether or not anything will change, but rather why does Sharon think the Israeli public desperately wants change, and more importantly, why he is right.


The first answer is not complicated: The public wants to change the system because most people feel the system in its current make up simply doesn't work.


Israeli democracy is strong and has stood up to several tough challenges, but more than a few Israelis feel it is too much. Primaries, for instance, or the parliamentary-governmental make up that created the current Knesset and is responsible for the fact that Israeli governments last on average less than two years.


And this, say Sharon and co., is the root of all evil. The ruler doesn't have enough power.


Can we adopt the American way?


Knesset members are a wild bunch of people interested only in advancing their own interests (as opposed to the prime minister, who, as everyone knows, acts with only the national good in mind) who continually create obstacles for Sharon.


If only we had a presidency here, just like the U.S. which the president is elected for a rock-solid four-year term and picks his own government ministers, THEN we would be able to rule this country, and everything would be okay.


The problem, of course, lies in the deep-rooted differences of governmental styles between Israel and the United States: They have absolute separation between three strong branches of government, and their democratic balance is maintained by the struggle between them.


Here, the Knesset is weak: On central matters such as the budget, supervision of the armed forces and setting the national agenda, the Knesset amounts to almost nothing. In the U.S. the president has to fight with Congress to ensure his programs are approved; it is surely he who should be jealous of the prime minister, not the other way around.


We prefer to complain than take action


But the problem runs much deeper than that. The desire for a change in governmental system stems from the fact that politicians are not answerable to their constituents.


It is much easier to complain about the system and to dream that direct elections, a presidential system or some other gimmick to subdue the inmates, rather than taking responsibility for the fact that the government doesn't work because ordinary citizens have no opportunity to demand that it work.


Sharon himself, of course, is the classic example of this. He is a prime minister who does not involve himself with many of the country's most important matters.


His first term was a failure by any parameter, and the second concentrated entirely on disengagement, while all other issues facing the country were left to others, or left altogether alone.


He doesn't bother explaining his decisions to anyone. The process by which he carried out the disengagement were not exactly stellar democracy (firing ministers who opposed the plan, open attempts to pay off supporters, etc.) or transparent.


All this does not prevent him from ruling, or from being the most popular politician Israel has known in a long time. Sharon knows he can rely on the apathy and feelings of political helplessness of average Israelis who have mostly stopped going to demonstrations (except memorial ceremonies), and who are certainly not about to push him to take personal responsibility for corruption or failure.


It's not power that Sharon lacks, but rather a public that will honestly critique his moves and will bring him and his colleagues to settle a real political score.


פרסום ראשון: 11.29.05, 22:50
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