A limited 1-year unity government

Next week President Reuven Rivlin will give Benjamin Netanyahu the 4-week task of forming a new government. As in the previous election rounds, Netanyahu may approach the largest opposition block, Blue & White, to evaluate the prospects of a unity government.

Benny Gantz and Netanyahu can use these 4-weeks to find a common ground and discuss the possibility of forming a limited 1-year unity government based on working together on just two urgent issues and a third, constitutional, issue:

First, do not miss the opportunity provided by President Trump’s initiative and work towards a timely outcome that will ensure a “Jewish and Democratic State” in secure borders recognized by the United States of America, while providing at the same time a viable political future for the Palestinians in the West Bank. It is important for the map with the final borders replacing the armistice borders of 1949 to represent a clear consensus of the large majority of the Israeli public.

Second, work to improve the health infrastructure and assign all the needed resources to keep the risks from the spread of the coronavirus pandemic low. This is an issue that can deeply affect both the health and the economy of Israel and the West Bank in year 2020 and that can bring together Jews and Arabs, secular and religious.

And third, lay the groundwork so that the new Knesset will change the law to eliminate the loophole allowing multiple election cycles in a row and the perpetuation of a transition government.

This limited 1-year unity government could be based on a 6-months rotation between Netanyahu and Gantz as Prime Ministers, with Netanyahu first to assure the timely success of President Trump’s initiative. After this limited 1-year unity government, Netanyahu and Gantz can part ways and call for new elections in which they will present clear alternatives in all the other issues dear to Israel’s society where they are deeply divided in their approach.

Note about the new law:

The new election law that will eliminate the possibility of multiple successive election cycles and anomalously long-life transition governments could be as simply as follows:

Step a): After the election, the President of Israel, after consultation with the political parties entrusts a member of the Knesset, say A, with the formation of a majority coalition (61+) for a period of 4 weeks (plus 2 weeks possible extension)

Step b): If A does not succeed in forming a majority coalition, the President of Israel will entrust another member of the Knesset, say B, with the formation of a majority coalition (61+) for a period of 4 weeks (plus 2 weeks possible extension)

Step c): If B does not succeed in forming a majority coalition, the Knesset will vote candidates A and B and a possible additional third candidate C, if so proposed, who must be a member of the Knesset too, for the position of Prime Minister. The one who gets the most votes will be the next Prime Minister of Israel. The new Prime Minister can name the Ministers of his cabinet according to his own preferences, not necessarily from the parties that supported him/her for the post of Prime Minister during steps (a) or (b), the only condition being that Ministers must be members of the Knesset. Votes of “no confidence” leading to the dissolution of the government cannot be presented during the first two years following the swearing-in of the new government. A government formed following the above procedure must call for new elections no later than four years after its swearing in. That is, the government formed by the above procedure has an assured continuity of at least two years and a life of no more than the standard four years limit.

Notice that a Prime Minister nominated directly in steps (a) or (b) by a majority vote (61+) does not have the safety net provided in step (c): his government can be brought down by a non-confidence vote at any time after swearing-in and new elections will have to be called. This will avoid the formation of opportunistic short-life coalitions: the Israeli public will remember this and most probably will not vote again for the candidate who had the poor judgment of forming such short-lived opportunistic coalition. It will also increase the will for compromise between the different parties needed for the formation of a stable majority (61+) coalition in steps (a) or (b). If they do not compromise, it might lead to step (c) where the public they represent could lose much more by not being represented at all in the new government (even if the new Prime Minister chosen by the Knesset in step (c) was the one supported by their party, given the freedom of the new Prime Minister to select any members of the Knesset for the posts of Ministers in his cabinet)  Hopefully, this will increase the civilized dialog and compromise that are essential components for the success of a stable parliamentary system of government.

Notice also that no more than one additional candidate C should be paired up with candidates A and B for a final vote in the Knesset to select the next Prime Minister in step (c), in order not to dilute the original wish of the majority of the Israeli voters in favor of candidates A and B.

About the Author
Jaime Kardontchik has a PhD in Physics from the Technion, Israel Institute of Technology. He lives in the Silicon Valley, California.
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