Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

In the last half year I have had the privilege of voting in three elections. As a citizen of the United States (and yes I still file a U.S. tax return) I voted with an absentee ballot in the Federal election for the President of the United States of America. Not long thereafter, as an Israeli citizen (yes I file a tax return in Israel too) and as a resident of Jerusalem, I voted for the mayor of Jerusalem.

If you are a regular reader of this column, it should not surprise you that I was very happy about the results of those elections. I am looking forward to the change that both new administrations promise to bring and which they represent. However, my reaction to the most recent election is a bit more complex.

In the Israeli national elections, the party that I and many of my friends voted for did not even get a seat in the Knesset, let alone get the majority of votes, yet I am optimistic about what the election results may bring.

In Israel, we do not vote for the Prime Minister, nor do we vote for individuals who represent us in the Knesset in the same way that Americans vote for presidents, congressmen and senators. Israel is not a representative democracy. In Israel we vote for a party, or a combination of parties which form lists of candidates for the Knesset. In order to have been elected into the Knesset in this past election, a party must have received at least 2% of the votes. The 120 seats of the Knesset are divided proportionately among the parties who cross that threshold. Representatives of each party receive their mandates based upon their position on their party’s list. If, for example, a party is allocated 10 Knesset seats, the first ten people on that party’s list become Members of the Knesset.

The President (an appointed largely ceremonial position in Israel) asks the party with the most support to form a government. For this reason, the party which has the most amount of votes may not be the one to control the government if it can not create the largest coalition of parties which support it. No party wins the majority of Knesset seats with votes in this past election being delegated to over thirty parties which were on the ballot and so a coalition of parties must be created to form support for a government. The party the President designates has 42 days to form a government through coalition negotiations, promising ministries to coalition partners and forming general principles and guidelines which all members of the coalition can agree upon. The Knesset must give the government a vote of confidence passing with at least 61 votes. If this passes, the person in the number one position of the leading list becomes the Prime Minister with other party members and coalition partners as cabinet ministers heading the various ministries.

In the recent elections, although Kadima (a moderate party) won the most Knesset seats, they only beat the right-wing Likud party by one seat (28 to 27). The majority of Knesset seats were won by nationalistic and religious parties which form a solid majority as a right-wing bloc.

So with this system of wheeling and dealing to form a government, where the majority of seats are held by people on the opposite end of the political spectrum from me, why am I optimistic?

The parties are so split in their ideology that there are parties within the majority bloc who represent a part of almost everything I believe in. The larger parties are interested in electoral reform which is also something I support. It is possible that they will form a coalition together in order to change the electoral system to something which works better. However, even if this happens, the right wing parties have the majority of the seats in the 18th Knesset. This is the reason for my optimism.

It is easy to get what you want from those with whom you agree, but when the opposition gives it to you, it is better.

A lasting peace is more likely to be delivered by a right-wing government than a left-wing government. Such was the case when Menachem Begin negotiated peace with Egypt and such is the case today.

Even though we have seen two wars in two years and there is great concern over the nuclear threat of Iran looming over us, the momentum of the peace process together with the interests of the U.S. administration will ensure that progress towards peace in this region is made.

We may be taking two steps forward and one step back, but I look forward as we continue to move in the right direction.

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