November 27, 2005

The time to rethink our electoral process is now.Statistics don’t lie. In 57 years of existence, there have been 30 governments in Israel, an average of about a new government every two years. That says everything.

What we learn from this is that no matter who the next prime minister is – Ariel Sharon, Amir Peretz, Bibi Netanyahu – and no matter what type of coalition is formed, it’s not likely to survive more than two years.

Why? Because the parliamentary system in Israel is unworkable. It was established 100 years for a population of 600,000. Now there are more than ten times that number of citizens, and it simply doesn’t work any more. To provide an analogy, if you have a hundred-year-old car, maybe it’s time to look at the engine to see if it needs changing.

As director of the Citizens’ Empowerment Center in Israel (CECI), we recognized that the Israeli political system is broken, and needs to be urgently fixed. To that mind, we have spearheaded the formation of the Presidential Commission for Examination of the Structure of the Government

In September, President Moshe Katsav convened 70 leading Israelis in the academic, political and judicial fields to examine alternatives to Israel’s government structure and system of elections. With Hebrew University President Menachem Magidor as its chairperson, the committee – whose members read like a who’s who of Israeli politics and academia – has pledged to conduct its research within a year, and present its finding to Katsav.

The committee – split into several sub-groups – is currently studying and researching the different structures of governments and electoral systems in democratic countries such as the United Kingdom, Germany, and the United States.

According to CECI’s founder Isaac Parviz Nazarian, “Our goal is to come up with a system to fit the character of the Israeli citizen.”

Why is this initiative so timely and so urgent? Because due to the current instability brought on by the political system, Israeli society is suffering and slowly eroding.

Recently, I recently attended the General Assembly in Toronto and told the people that came to the CECI booth that Jerusalem is a perfect example of this erosion. Israel’s capital is totally different today than it was 20 years ago under Teddy Kollek. Jerusalem is the poorest city in Israel, its facilities are falling apart, and there are problems between the religious and the secular as well as between Jews and Arabs.

Why? A great deal of the problem has to do with the fact that the government ministers in charge of the city who could implement changes and improvements are replaced before they can get anything done.

The presidential committee has some supporters in high places. After announcing his decision to leave the Likud last week, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon told reporters, “there needs to be a change in the system of government. I recommend that you pay attention to the work that being done under the initiative of President Katsav who appointed a group of serious people to examine way to change the system in Israel. I’ve discussed this with the president and I absolutely think there needs to be change.

“As you can see, there’s no possibility to lead, you’re always running into difficulties that are unsolvable and I think that it absolutely requires taking care of… If we want to accomplish things, then the system has to change.”

What the prime minister was proposing is not switching the current governing system for a specific alternative – but to look at all the options – the presidential system, the half-presidential system like in France, the parliamentary system – and choosing what is best for us.

What Sharon is saying is that there needs to be some stability – you can’t start the day with 81 coalition members and find yourself at the end of the day with 61. In the United States, there are plenty of problems with the political system, but whether or not you like President Bush, you know that he will be in charge for the next four years, barring disaster.

Most of our sub-committees have met a number of times and are preparing their examination results. In a few months, we’ll be giving our report to the president with our recommendations, options and alternatives, and he has pledged to pass the results on to the Knesset.

Leading up to election day on March 28th, we’re going to approach each party and ask them to include a plank in their party platform that pledges to take an examination of the Israeli political structure seriously. During an election period, the general public will be more open to listen to politicians calling for change.

With new elections being called, it only means that the results of the committee are more urgently needed than ever. Our system of 30 governments in 57 years cannot continue unabated. A stronger Israeli political system will mean a stronger, and more stable Israel.

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Jason Harris

Jason Harris

Executive Director

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