Much will be said in the coming weeks and months about Israel’s most recent election. But aside from the conflicting narratives, spin, mandates and outcomes, one sweeping conclusion has been made that must be enacted in the future regardless of who the actual winner will be—Israel must adopt a presidential system of government. This may seem like an odd conclusion of the election, but after witnessing the last years of turmoil in Israel, a change from the unstable parliamentary system is necessary for the survival of Israel’s democracy as we know it.
Before I explain why this change is necessary, a little background is needed. Israel is a parliamentary democracy, similar to England. In its system, parliamentary (KNESSET) seats are allocated on a proportional basis to vote share. The more votes you win, the more seats, regardless of where the votes come from. The winning party, or coalition, chooses a prime minister and runs the government. Israel has always operated like this, as have many democracies.
On the other hand, a presidential system is more in line with America. In this system, seats for the parliament are allocated based on redesigned districts which specific locations. The party with the most districts under its control runs the parliament. However, the president is elected separately based on a different voting system, such as the Electoral College, in the U.S.
So, why should Israel make this change?
Israel’s democracy fundamentally unique in several ways. Instead of large coalitions with generally aligned ideologies, Israeli parties are strict ethnic blocs of identity-based voters. Their politics are deeply fragmented in small groups who use the kingmaking powers of the parliamentary system to subject larger parties to their will. For example, Netanyahu, who may have had the largest bloc in the past, must heed to the demands of religious parties who he may not agree with, in order to gain a majority. This causes deep animosity among the political groups that results in often stalemate elections, as we have seen most recently. Moreover, it deprives any party of real legislating power since no single party can control enough votes to pass legislation.
This is why Israel must adopt a presidential system. It would have electoral districts in which the seat would be awarded to the highest vote getter. A system such as this one would have many added benefits. First, it would allow the larger parties to acquire a real majority and stability in governing. Instead of 35 seats out of 120 for Kahol Laban, they would have 65 seats. Second, it would moderate Israeli politics. If the more extreme parties cannot win seats, the winning parties will be able to moderate their positions and therefore result in a more genteel political atmosphere. Third, the system will incentivize a more consensus-based approach in which the bigger parties could hammer out deals without worrying about threats from their flanks. Fourth, it would empower more rural and long forgotten regions of the country such as the Negev and Arab communities. Lastly, a separate system in which the president is elected as another entity would allow a more palatable option to flourish, as candidates would be forced to appeal to various voter segments in order to win.
Though it may seem difficult, a change to a new system of elections would allow Israel to resolve petty differences and in turn permit its leaders to find common ground in solving the greatest issues it faces.