Israel needs regime change to insure stability

Last month, Avigdor Liberman, Israel’s minister of strategic affairs, resigned from office.

Though this is just one news fact, it resonates with much larger implications in Israel’s political, economic and security arenas, such as possibly affecting the peace process or the investor’s desire to invest in Israel.

Liberman and his party, which includes 11 Knesset members, joined the coalition 15 months ago. The Ministry of Strategic Affairs was especially designed for Liberman, and millions of taxpayers’ shekels were spent to put together this public office. Now, in light of Liberman’s resignation, all of that money has gone to waste, along with the strategic planning and important intelligence work that was done last year.

In addition, Tourism Minister Yitzhak Aaronovitch, who served for less than one year, will be forced to finish his term due to the resignation of Liberman’s party, Israel Beiteinu. Due to Aaronovitch’s resignation, all of his projects and long-term plans will be frozen and perhaps will be canceled by the new tourism minister, who will bring his own agendas.

Liberman’s resignation has many political consequences. When Liberman was part of the coalition, the government had 78 members and was very stable, but with his resignation, it has shrunk to 67 members. Now Ehud Olmert depends more on each one of the coalition members, because if another party withdraws, he will not have a majority vote in the Knesset, and Israel would have to hold new elections.

Thus, Liberman’s resignation strengthens the power and influence of the small parties, because they are able to demand more, and this reality opens more doors to political corruption. Since the prime minister needs to maintain his coalition to stay in power, he will do anything to keep the support of the small parties or others in order to preserve the majority.

Both the resignations of Liberman and Aaronovitch add to the dismal statistics that make up the history of Israel’s government. In the last 11 years, Israel has had eight defense ministers, eight justice ministers, 11 finance ministers and 10 foreign affairs ministers.

The truth is that Liberman recognizes the dire problem of Israel’s government instability and advocates reform. In an article published in June 2006, Liberman stated, “There is no company or a grocery store that can handle a lack of stability; how much more true this is of a government office and a state. We can not continue in this way.”

In 2005, the Citizens Empowerment Center in Israel (CECI) addressed the problem of government instability by spearheading the creation of the President’s Commission for the Examination of the Structure of Governance in Israel. The commission was given the charter to research and examine various types of government structures and electoral systems in order to recommend the best one suited for Israel.

The commission is led by professor Menachem Megidor, president of Hebrew University, and members include prominent community leaders, politicians, former Knesset members and judges. In January 2007, the commission presented its report to the Knesset and other government officials on possible alternatives to Israel’s current electoral system.

To date, the Knesset has already approved several of the commission’s recommendations in the first of three readings. The recommendations include:

1) Implement “Norwegian Law.” Ministers and deputy ministers, with the exception of party leaders, cannot simultaneously serve as a minister and a Knesset member.

2) Increase the voter threshold from 2 percent to 2.5 percent of valid votes in the national elections. This law would reduce the number of smaller parties.

3) Amend the basic law so that it would limit the number of government ministers to between eight and 18.

During the current winter session, the Knesset will discuss some of the commission’s other recommendations, such as the establishment of district elections in Israel. It is important to remember that the commission’s work parallels Israel’s current growing interest in securing government stability, because this issue has become a hot topic among both politicians and the general public.

Israeli citizens need to understand that they can make a positive difference in their government, but in order to do so, they need to make a conscious effort to better understand their democratic rights and responsibilities. Citizens also need to become more civically involved.

They can write letters to politicians demanding accountability; they can urge politicians to establish regional or district elections so that citizens can exercise their votes to determine their Knesset representatives, and they can join local groups supporting candidates and organizations dedicated to government reform.

Israel’s future well-being is dependent on its strength and stability. Now is the time to take decisive action to change the pattern of government instability, which has plagued Israel for the past 59 years.

Change is needed in order to empower the government, alleviate the political deadlock and make Israel more secure in order to address her many challenges, both inside and outside her borders. In light of Israel’s approaching 60th birthday, I urge Jews everywhere to let their voices be heard and support efforts to help usher in a new era and ensure a brighter future for all the generations to come.

Parviz Nazarian is founder of the Citizens Empowerment Center in Israel.