As expected, the party of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — Likud-Beiteinu, a merger of his Likud party with that of his more right-wing coalition partner Avigdor Lieberman — finished first in last week’s national election, winning with 31 seats in the next Knesset.
What wasn’t expected is how big a drop that represents. Bibi’s party has 42 seats in the outgoing governing coalition, meaning his political strength in Israel’s next parliament will be significantly diminished.
We’ll let the political pundits debate why this happened. We’re more interested in what it means to Israeli politics in the future.
And that leads us to the second place finisher, the Yesh Atid party led by former television journalist, Yair Lapid. Yesh Atid, which means, “there is a future” in Hebrew, is a centrist party with a strong secular bent, much like Lapid, his late father — onetime Justice Minister Josef “Tommy” Lapid — and the senior Lapid’s Shinui party, which he led to a second place finish in the 2003 election.
We encourage you to read Yesh Atid’s platform, which you can find online at yeshatid.org. It is a heavily domestic agenda, which addresses several pressing issues in the Jewish state, and domestic matters frequently take a back seat in Israel — understandably — to defense and security matters.
For this editorial, though, we’ll only focus on one plank in the party’s platform, which could have a dramatic effect on political life in Israel if it is ever enacted: changing the percentage of votes a party needs for seats in the Knesset.
Noting that Israel’s system of government is “increasingly ineffective,” Yesh Atid correctly asserts that the current 2 percent threshold for Knesset representation hampers meaningful change in Israeli society because the national government must cut deals with small narrow-interest parties to stay in power. Furthermore, since these governing coalitions are constantly in flux, there’s precious little time to enact any significant changes in health care, education, housing or finance.
Yesh Atid’s remedy: raise the percentage of votes a party must get for Knesset representation from 2 to 6 percent.
If this single change were enacted, there would be fewer political parties in the Knesset, making formation of effective governing coalitions much easier.
Such a change would simplify the calculus of coalition building in Israel. Small parties with a handful of seats would be less capable of bringing down a government if it did not conform to that party’s demands; the top voter-getter would be more capable of carrying out the will of the majority.
Mind you, increasing the election threshold from 2 to 6 percent does not ensure future governments of Israel will lean left or right, or stake out the political center. That, as always, would remain for the voters. But it would mean that parties on the extreme left or extreme right would be less likely to influence the governing parties in ways the voters never intended.
We don’t know if Yesh Atid will be part of the next government, but we fervently believe this one plank in its platform could lead to more productive and successful governments in Israel’s future. For Israel’s sake, it’s an idea whose time has come.