Term limits for the prime minister, bad idea

Another bill is being introduced to the Knesset to enact term limits on the prime minister in less than two years. It’s very clear that the bill is aimed directly at Prime Minister Netanyahu, supported by both the opposition and contending leaders from within his own party. The enactment of the legislation will prevent the most capable leaders from serving and obstruct the operations of the democratic parliamentary system.

It’s convenient for members of Knesset to support legislation for term-limits in the opposition or as a contender for party leadership, but legislation shouldn’t be written to prevent one specific leader or party from serving multiple terms. Rather, legislation should be written with a long-term vision in mind for the many future prime ministers to come.

According to Israel’s Channel 2 News, opposition leaders plan to reintroduce a proposal seeking to impose a two-term limit on an individual’s ability to serve as prime minister. A similar bill was authored by MK Merav Michaeli of the Zionist Union in 2014. The preface of the bill states, “it’s very important in a democratic system to see changes in leadership, in order to prevent degeneration and detachment.” It continues stating, “democracy is not a monarchy, and it is necessary to avoid a government headed by the same person for years.”

Netanyahu is currently the second longest serving prime minister in Israel’s history. He’s in his fourth term and served more than 10 years in office. While many don’t like his policies or leadership style, it’s clear that he’s no monarch; monarchs aren’t democratically elected. To become prime minister, Netanyahu was elected to head the Likud Party through its internal primary elections and was appointed by the president to form a coalition government.

Time spent in office has no correlation to a prime minister’s ability to serve. One of Israel’s greatest prime ministers, David Ben-Gurion, was also Israel’s longest served with some twelve years in office. He was the most capable leader during a turbulent time that coincided with the establishment of the state and multiple wars. Ben-Gurion was a member of the Mapai Party the equivalent to today’s Labor Party — a rival of Netanyahu’s Likud.

If term limits for prime minister will be enacted, the Knesset will be one of the only parliaments in the world with a term limit on the prime minister.

The United States style presidential system with term limits doesn’t make sense for Israel’s parliamentary system because whereas the president’s term is based on a fixed four years, the prime minister’s term is not. It’s true to point out that the Knesset has fixed election dates every four years, but a coalition government only lasts as long as it retains the confidence of the Knesset. If the Knesset feels the government is no longer fit to legislate, then it can bring forward a vote of no-confidence or move elections to an earlier date. Elections have occurred with only two years between them from 1959 to 1961, 1999 to 2001, and 2013 to 2015.

The bill to limit terms of the prime minister is not democratic nor is it to protect the country from a monarchy. Netanyahu’s opponents in both the opposition and within his own party need to focus on beating him with the ballot box rather than using legislative maneuvers. When the day arrives that he loses power by election, it will be a triumph for Israel’s parliamentary system and bring about a leader that is worthy to succeed him as prime minister.

About the Author
Joey is a writer, social activist, and new immigrant to Israel. He works as a program manager for an international Israel education organization, where he trains students from around the world in Israel activism. Before immigrating to Israel, Joey received a BA in Middle Eastern studies and political science at the University of Arizona. He served as a lone soldier in the IDF with the Paratrooper Brigade.
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