Libmonster ID: SE-306
Author(s) of the publication: M. B. BELENKAYA

Recent elections to the Israeli Parliament (Knesset)* The February 2009 elections confirmed that electoral reform is one of the most pressing issues in modern Israel. The price of the issue is political stability.

Since 1988. The Knesset has never fully completed the 4-year term allotted to it by law, however, it has managed to do so several times before, with the exception of the period of the 1960s. The governmental leapfrog is even more intense than the parliamentary one.

The vote gap between the ruling Kadima and the opposition Likud in the February elections was so minimal that, based on the parliamentary mandates received, it was only one seat in the Knesset (28 and 27 seats, respectively). For the first time in Israel's history, the formation of a government was entrusted not to the leader of the winning party (in this case, Tzipi Livni), but to its rival, Benjamin Netanyahu.


A similar case has already occurred in Israeli history. In 1984, the left bloc "Maarakh", then mostly consisting of members of the Party of Labor/"Labor, led by Shimon Peres, won 44 seats in the election, while Likud, with 41 seats, became its closest competitor. Peres was unable to form a government coalition, and eventually the principle of rotation was adopted - for the first two years, the government was headed by Peres, and Likud leader Yitzhak Shamir was his deputy and at the same time Foreign minister. Two years later, their roles were reversed.

This experience, desperate to form a coalition, Ts. Livni suggested applying again.

However, Netanyahu, more confident in his abilities, refused.

As a result, his candidacy for the post of prime minister received the greatest support from the parties that passed into parliament, and Israeli President Shimon Peres, according to Israeli political tradition, officially invited Netanyahu to try to form a new government. Kadima went into opposition.

Netanyahu managed to create a broad coalition, which included the center-left Labor Party/"E. Barak's Labor Party, the right-wing Our Home Israel (NDI) and religious SHAS, as well as the" small "parties Yadad ha-Torah and Bayt Yehudi. The ruling coalition led by Likud controls 70 of the 120 seats in the Knesset, ensuring the successful formation of a new government.

However, this motley alliance is reminiscent of Krylov's famous fable about "The Swan, the crab and the Pike", and it is practically guaranteed major internal strife that has already begun inside Labor.

Netanyahu had to agree with Barak that the new Government would abide by all of Israel's international agreements, including those recognizing the Palestinian State. At the same time, the leader of the NDI, who took the post of Foreign Minister, A. Lieberman, is a "hawk", whom Israeli Arabs call a "fascist", and many Western publications - an "ultranationalist".

In turn, the religious SHAS during the election campaign attacked Lieberman for such points of his program,

* The name of the Israeli Parliament is derived from the Council of Representatives of the Jewish People, established in the fifth century BC by the Jewish spiritual leaders Ezra and Nehemiah in Jerusalem and called the Knesset ha-Gdol (Great Assembly).

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such as the adoption of the constitution in Israel, the establishment of the institution of civil marriage and other secular legal norms. It is obvious that all attempts by Lieberman to keep his election promises will run into opposition from SHAS.

It is no coincidence that after the results of the Knesset elections became known, the leaders of most parties again spoke about the need to reform the state's equal system and the electoral system.

The head of Kadima, Tzipi Livni, immediately after the publication of the first election results, stated the need to reform the state system as quickly as possible in order to ensure the stability of the government. Speaker of the Knesset of the 17th convocation Dalia Itzik (from Kadima ) She expressed concern that if the new Knesset does not change the electoral system, it could destroy the state. Representatives of other parties, in particular "Our Home is Israel" and "Meretz", joined these statements.

This is not the first time that Israeli politicians have expressed a desire to reform the electoral system. Lieberman also accused the leaders of other parties of hypocrisy. "All those who are now talking about the need for reform of the state system have repeatedly voted against it," Lieberman said, stressing that his party will consistently promote this reform1.

"Political paralysis" - this is how the German newspaper Frankfurter Rundschau described the situation in Israel2, implying that with all possible coalitions, it will be difficult to implement certain political decisions.

Given that Israel has been living in a permanent state of war since its founding in 1948, and that it is officially under martial law, and all this against the backdrop of periodic economic crises and a very mosaic structure of Israeli society, the question cannot but arise - how has the political system of this country functioned so far, and without significant changes since its inception?


The political structure of Israel is based on the principle of separation of powers, but in fact the executive branch is subordinate to the legislative, formally only the courts are independent. Israel does not have a constitution, but the State system is based on the Basic Laws formulated and adopted by the Knesset.

Despite the fact that Israel is a parliamentary republic, the head of state is the president, who symbolizes the unity of the nation. He is elected for a 5-year term by a majority vote of the Knesset deputies. The President may hold office for no more than two consecutive terms. His duties are mainly limited to representative functions. The President opens the first session of the new Parliament, accepts credentials from foreign ambassadors, signs treaties and laws adopted by the Parliament on behalf of the State, appoints judges, on the recommendation of the relevant authorities - the director of the State Bank of Israel, as well as the heads of Israeli diplomatic missions abroad, pardons convicted persons on the recommendation of the Minister of Justice.

The President assigns the task of forming a government to the member of the Knesset (usually the head of the winning electoral list) who has the best chance of forming a viable coalition. The only exceptions were 3 campaigns (in 1996, 1999 and 2001), when the election of the head of Government was held by direct voting. This system did not last long and further confused the political situation in the country.

As for the members of the Government, all of them, with a few exceptions, are members of the Knesset and are appointed through inter-party consultations. The term of office of the government is set at 4 years, but it can be shortened due to the collapse of the government coalition, the resignation of the Prime Minister, or as a result of a vote of no confidence passed by the Knesset. New parliamentary elections are called in the event of the collapse of the government coalition and the lack of opportunities for the main party to find new partners. The legislation also gives the Parliament the right to announce self-dissolution and early elections.

The Knesset is formed on the basis of proportional representation. The whole country is a single izbi-

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the Electoral district and votes for the lists approved by the Election Commission.

The Law on Parties adopted in 1992 states that only a registered party or a bloc of two or more registered parties can participate in elections. Political forces whose representatives directly or indirectly oppose the existence of the State of Israel as a State of the Jewish people, or its democratic essence, promote racism, or support the armed struggle of hostile States or terrorist organizations against Israel cannot participate in elections. Each party has its own principle of forming a list and nominating a party leader. Some people prefer primaries*. In ultra-religious parties, candidates are appointed by spiritual leaders. If we are talking about a joint electoral list for several parties, it is determined as a result of inter-party negotiations.

The parties running for the Knesset represent a wide range of interests and views of various segments of Israeli society. Critics of this electoral system point out that it leads to the presence of too many factions in the Knesset, which leads to fragmentation and weakness of the coalition government. Proponents of the current system believe that it best represents the entire political spectrum in the Knesset and thus ensures true parliamentary democracy.


The Israeli parliamentary system in its current form began to emerge in the 1920s. Its formation was significantly influenced by the state and legal structure of Great Britain, which at that time had a mandate to govern Palestine, as well as the experience of the Zionist movement that had formed in Europe. 3
The fact that many Israeli parties and political movements originated and developed in the Diaspora played an important role in the formation of the party system. They did not set themselves the goal of coming to power, but rather were international organizations striving to achieve some "distant ideal in an even more distant country." Their activities in Palestine were not always adapted to local conditions, and they were forced to adapt to the realities of the Yishuv-the Jewish population of Palestine during the British mandate.

Gradually, they developed into well-organized and almost closed political communities that nurtured mutual distrust of each other.

Therefore, at the time of the proclamation of the State of Israel, one of the most urgent tasks was to create an effective system for managing and resolving conflicts that arose between the newly formed state apparatus and numerous independent organizations, groups and parties that already existed with their own political ambitions. Ultimately, the Yishuv authorities achieved recognition of their supremacy by the majority of non-governmental organizations. Their agreement to accept the parliamentary rules of the game and present their candidates for the future Knesset was very important for implementing one of the basic principles of parliamentarism - the rule of law and the willingness of all to obey the same rules.

After the declaration of independence, the development of parliamentarism and the formation of a system of State institutions and institutions continued within the framework of the main trends identified during the Yishuv period.

As early as October 1947, a joint commission of the National Committee 4 and the Executive Committee of the Jewish Agency 5 drew up a draft constitution. In March 1948, provisional legislative and executive bodies were created: the People's Council, consisting of 37 representatives of all parties and movements of the Yishuv - according to their actual political weight-and the People's Government.

The People's Council, in turn, approved a carefully worded regulation on the Provisional Government, which was to begin functioning after the end of the English mandate. The new legislative body is the Provisional State Council (CAU). It includes all 37 members of the People's Council and 13 members of the People's Government. On May 16, 1948, the Council elected Chaim Weizmann as its chairman.

In fact, all Israelis understood that during the outbreak of the first Arab-Israeli war, it was impossible to create anything other than a transitional, interim administration. Nevertheless, the UN General Assembly Resolution on the partition of Palestine No. 181 (II) (adopted in November 1947) stated that "The Constituent Assembly of each of the States (Arab and Jewish) should adopt a democratic constitution" 6. It also listed its basic principles: universal suffrage, elected legislative bodies executive authorities subordinate to them, guarantees of equal rights in the civil, political, economic and religious spheres. The commitment to adopt a constitution was later confirmed by the Israeli Declaration of Independence, which stated that the Constituent Assembly should be convened no later than October 1, 1948.However, due to the war, this date was postponed. The election was scheduled for January 25, 1949.

The first session of the Constituent Assembly, which was held in-

* Intra-party voting to determine the party leader is common, in particular, among major Israeli parties, such as Labor, Likud, and Kadima.

page 27
counted for 120 seats, opened on February 14, 1949. Two days later, the assembly passed its first bill, the so-called "transitional law", which was supposed to serve as an interim constitution. This document became the basis of Israeli legislation, which is still in force. It consisted of 15 short sections and declared a republican form of government, which provided for such institutions as the president, the Cabinet of Ministers and the parliament.

With the adoption of the "transitional law", the Constituent Assembly elected X. Weizmann was president of the state, and from that moment on the Provisional Government resigned. A few days later, Weizmann, after consulting with party leaders, entrusted the formation of the first government to David Ben-Gurion, the head of the Mapai party, which won the majority of seats in the elections. On March 10, the first Israeli government was approved by a majority vote.

It was assumed that the main task of the Constituent Assembly was to draft a constitution, and the Government submitted the relevant draft for consideration. However, Ben-Gurion and other Mapai leaders decided not to accept the document.

There were several reasons for this. First of all, the Prime Minister argued that it would be a mistake to be caught in the legislative clutches almost immediately after the declaration of independence. In addition, he noted that it takes time for the absorption of immigrants. He believed that discussing the constitution would distract the Knesset from other pressing issues. Another obstacle to the adoption of the constitution was the demand of the Bloc of Religious Parties (a partner in Ben-Gurion's coalition government) to make the Torah and Talmud the basis of Israeli law.

Thus, in June 1950, it was decided to abandon the adoption of the constitution. It was assumed that it would eventually be built on the basis of special legislative acts designed as Basic Laws.


A serious shortcoming of the young Israeli democracy was the politicization of all spheres of public life - as comprehensive as it was during the Yishuv. None of the factions was ready for an ideological compromise, much less for self-destruction.

The extent of this all-encompassing politicization can be seen from the fact that 21 parties submitted lists of candidates and actively campaigned in the 1949 elections to the Constituent Assembly that became the Knesset of the first convocation; 17 parties participated in the 1951 elections to the Knesset of the second convocation; and no parties participated in the 1955 elections to the Knesset of the third convocation. less than 18, and the fourth convocation of 1959 - at least 26 parties.

As a result of the elections, none of the parties gained an absolute majority, and negotiations on the formation of a coalition government were inevitable. But the governments ' tenure in power was short-lived. Only in the period from 1949 to 1960, Israel changed 9 governments. All of them were formed by Mapai in a coalition with a number of other parties. Until the mid-1960s, the dominant position of the Social Democrats, led by Mapai, was not in doubt. Over the next decade, they maintained control over the main levers of political power in the face of the gradual rise of the right-wing Herut party among other opposition forces.

It is worth noting that, as a rule, there were no fundamental ideological differences between parties within the right and left camps, only tactical attitudes differed.

In general, all Israeli parties can be divided into several groups: workers ' /socialist (left) and conservative/liberal (right). There are separate religious parties and parties based on the communal principle - Sephardic parties, Russian-speaking parties.

The core of the right - wing camp was the party "Herut" - on its basis the modern "Likud" was created in 1974; the basis of the left was made up of "Mapai" and "Mapam". Mapai later became part of the Labor Party established in 1968."Labor". In recent years, the definitions of "right" and" left "mostly refer not to the characteristics of the parties' doctrines, but to their attitude to the peace process with the Palestinians. The "left" are considered its supporters, and the "right" are considered its opponents, although this division is very conditional.

Since 1977, the rivalry between the Labor Party and the Likud bloc has been the main intrigue of all election campaigns until 2006. The emergence of various centrist forces (the "General Zionist" Party in 1951, the "Liberal Party" in 1961, the "Movement for Democracy and Change" in 1977, the "Third Way" party in 1996, and the "Center Party" in 1999), as well as the strengthening of in certain periods of radical or sectorial parties, this did not lead to the formation of a real political alternative to the current government. As the Israeli political analyst Alek Epstein notes, during 16 election campaigns, no real "third force" has appeared in Israeli politics.7
It would seem that the situation changed in 2006 - for the first time, the "third force" represented by the new Kadima party won the election. Labor came in second, while Likud shared third with the religious SHAS party. Kadima's victory was also the first successful attempt in Israeli history by a politician to leave the party that had nurtured him and win an election in the process. However, in many ways, the emergence of the" third force " is an illusion.

First, "Kadima" is

page 28
a group of politicians who left Likud together with Sharon and defectors from other camps - Labor, SHAS, the Shinui party, which defends the interests of the secular population, and the right - wing radical movement "Our Home is Israel" - joined them. It is obvious that such a diverse composition, which is not bound together by a common party ideology, cannot be viable for a long period of time, even in spite of such a cementing factor as the instinct of political self-preservation.

Secondly, Kadima is an artificial party created for a specific person - Ariel Sharon and his specific political plans for disengagement with the Palestinians. However, his illness has made significant adjustments. The party was led by his closest ally, Ehud Olmert, who has neither Sharon's charisma nor his maneuvering skills. Therefore, Kadima's victory is largely due to Sharon, as well as to the feeling of disillusionment of voters in other parties.

And yet, despite the victory, Olmert and his party members were a minority in their own government coalition. A similar situation has already occurred in Israel: in the 1999 elections, the winning Labor party also did not receive 30 seats, which doomed it to be in the minority in the government it formed. However, there is a significant difference between the two situations: then the leader of the Labor party, Ehud Barak, won the direct election of the prime minister, having received personal confidence from 56% of his fellow citizens. In 2001, the law on direct election of the Prime Minister was repealed, and Olmert did not receive any" personal " mandate of confidence.

In May 2008, the ruling coalition led by Kadima had 64 deputies, with the required minimum of 61. And the possibility of early elections has been increasingly discussed in Israel, especially in light of the trial that has focused on Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. However, the election was delayed because Labor, Kadima's coalition partner, considered it premature and refused to break up Olmert's government for the sake of an unobvious victory in future elections. A compromise option was found - holding primaries in Kadima . They were scheduled for September 2008 and were held without Olmert's participation.

Tzipi Livni became the new leader of Kadima, and it was she who led the party to new elections, conducted a military campaign in Gaza, hoping to strengthen its popularity, but suffered a political fiasco, despite the fact that her party was the first in terms of the number of votes. Now Kadima will have to prove its viability in the opposition.


New elections under the old system once again raised the question of transforming the Israeli electoral system. Ben-Gurion's words are still relevant: "Those who vote for Mapai... they don't know in advance which other parties I will be forced to enter into a coalition with, and what kind of concessions I will have to make to them."8. As a result, this leads to rapid disillusionment of voters with the choice made.

What, according to Israeli experts, are the shortcomings of the proportional representation system, and what crises does it lead to?

First of all, no member of the Knesset represents the local interests of residents of a particular district or locality, since voters are forced to vote for lists in the formation of which they do not participate*. This situation has largely led to the emergence of many small parties that represent the interests of individual Israeli communities or population groups (Sephardim, Arabs, natives of Russia, Orthodox Christians, pensioners, etc.). At the same time, from time to time there are even smaller parties - "doubles" that do not pass the electoral barrier and only take away votes from other parties. Why do they engage in a struggle that is already doomed to failure?

Israeli political analyst Vladimir (Ze'ev) Hanin believes that under the existing proportional electoral system, it is relatively easy to get the necessary 70-80 thousand votes for a certain "topic", if you appeal to the necessary target groups that have the electoral potential for this 9.

With the crisis of the "melting pot" politics and the growing fragmentation of Israeli society, the representation of the "big" parties is steadily declining, while the "small" parties are growing.

A vivid example of this is the behavior of Russian-speaking voters. Khanin notes that if in 1992 and partly in 2003 their choice was determined by socio-economic considerations, then in subsequent years it is difficult not to notice the ideological background of the votes, motivated mainly by foreign policy and security issues (as was the case in 1996, 2001 and 2003), or problems of relations between the religious community and the state. states (in 1999). While the elections of the 1990s showed a steady increase in the percentage of votes cast by repatriates for "Russian" parties (from about 20% in 1992 to 44% in 1996 and 55% in 1999), in 2003 the overwhelming majority of immigrants from the USSR/CIS gave their votes to national parties. 10 After these elections, Russian-speaking parties, which had flourished in the mid-1990s, set out to integrate with all-Israeli movements. Each of the parties consists of-

* Lists are drawn up by the party leadership and submitted to the voter's court. Only in some parties, the first persons on the list are determined during the primaries, and voters have the opportunity to influence this.

page 29
I took various models of this integration.

Roman Bronfman's Democratic Choice became a peripheral part of the Meretz bloc, formally retaining its autonomy. Natan Sharansky's oldest and once-strongest Russian-speaking Yisrael ba-Aliyah party has effectively dissolved into Likud structures.

The hero of the last election, Our Home Israel, led by Avigdor Lieberman, at one time formed the basis of the Ihud Leumi bloc in the Knesset. It should be noted that Lieberman again went to the elections independently and won an impressive victory - for the first time the "Russian party"entered the top three. Lieberman received the majority of votes from Russkaya Uleta, but this is not a return to the situation of the 1990s.In his election program, Lieberman focuses not on "Russianness", but on issues that concern many Israelis-the relationship between the state and religious institutions, and defends a tough stance towards Arabs. It is quite obvious that the NDI leader is looking for voices outside the Russian-speaking Israeli community, and the party has a significant number of Israelis who are not related to emigration from the USSR and Russia in the 1970s and 1990s.

The result of the "Our Home - Israel" party in the last elections confirms the opinion that never have "small" parties and movements (after 1965, all political forces except Labor and the Likud bloc belong to them) been so influential as they are now. Thus, the concept of" small "and" large " parties is very conditional today.

It should be noted that the success of "small" parties in Israel and their significant influence on major political players would not have been possible if not for the low electoral barrier. This is what leads to an increase in the number of parties represented in the Knesset, and to the loss of traditional parliamentary favorites of their votes. If before the 1990s the winning parties won from 56 to 40 seats, over the past 10 years their result has fluctuated between 38 and 27.

Of course, in conditions of constant "blackmail" on the part of "small" parties, it is impossible to create a stable coalition, which leads to a progressive government crisis. From 1992 to 2001, the average term of office of the head of Government did not exceed two years. Only Sharon, who stayed in power from 2001 to 2005, reversed the trend. It can be said that he was able to survive several votes of no confidence only thanks to a successful political situation.

Attempts to change the electoral system or significantly increase the electoral barrier have so far failed, as they have been blocked by "small" parties.

The fact that the legislative branch in Israel is not separated from the executive branch also creates problems, and all ministerial appointments are opportunistic and depend on the success of inter-party agreements.

Over the past decade, each ministerial cabinet has changed up to 7 ministers, and, unlike, for example, in the UK, where ministers can change, and department directors work for years, in Israel, along with ministers, their environment also changes.

The coalition system does not provide effective governance. A particular minister is often surrounded by deputies from another party or parties, which reduces the level of trust.

As a result, for the coalition government, the need to achieve "internal peace", that is, tactical issues, is more important than developing and solving strategic tasks.

Thus, since the time of Ben-Gurion, the situation in Israel has not changed for the better. There is currently no leader in the country's political life who has the charisma of the first Prime Minister.

Nevertheless, Israeli society is gradually becoming aware of the need to change the current situation, in which the Prime Minister and the government are forced from the first months of their existence to fight for their own political survival and resort to maneuvering in order to pass any bill in the Knesset. In parallel with the reform of the electoral system in Israel, discussions around the adoption of the constitution are still relevant.

The recent elections have convincingly proved the relevance of the issue. The Israeli political system is on the verge of collapse. But will the advocates of change be able to achieve what they want? 12009/stroi 302.html 2tik/meinung/kommentare/1673876_Israelisc he-Laehmung.html

Saker Howard M. 3 Formirovanie Israelskoy respubliki [Formation of the Israeli Republic]. Jerusalem, Aliyah Library Publishing House, issue 194.

4 The Yishuv had an Assembly of Deputies (similar to the Parliament) and a National Committee board (similar to the Government). The powers of these bodies were defined in legislative acts adopted by the British authorities.

5 The Jewish Agency for Israel (Sohnut) was established in 1929. It is a non-governmental, non-governmental, non-profit international Jewish organization. Before the establishment of the State of Israel, the Jewish Agency was a tool through which the world Jewish community and the World Zionist Organization carried out activities aimed at creating a Jewish national home in Palestine. With the declaration of Israel's independence, a number of functions of the Jewish Agency were transferred to governmental organizations, and the agency transferred a significant part of its activities to Jewish communities around the world. The main activity is to promote the emigration of Jews to Israel.

6 Official UN website - OpenEle-ment

Epstein A. 7 The Sixteenth Attempt: Reflections on the eve of the next extraordinary Knesset elections -

Sacker Howard M. 8 Edict. op.

Hanin V. 9 Don't offend the little ones, or why we are already dissatisfied with the Knesset, which has not yet been elected - 4. shtml

Khanin V. 10" Russkiye "i Vlast' v sovremennom Izrael ' ["Russians" and Power in Modern Israel]. Moscow, 2003.


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