February 22, 2020

Will Israel Ever Have Term Limits?

“Israel is currently observing the one-year anniversary of its transition government, hoping that the third round of elections in March 2020 will be the last for a while. Israeli law contains clear rules regarding how the cabinet is created. The president imposes the mission on the Knesset member with the highest chances for gathering enough supporters to create a majority coalition and swear in a new government. The premier is tasked with serving his or her constituency as well as those who did not vote for him or her. But under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s tenure, these goals were forgotten. He does not hesitate to disperse the Knesset when it suits him personally, for example to promote a legal change to serve his own interests. He acts like a lone ruler.

The media focus on the new elections, the third in less than a year, has distracted the public from the fact that the elections held in April were also moved up: Netanyahu wanted to outsmart the attorney general and force him to delay publicizing his indictment decision. Since then, the attorney general has submitted his indictment to the Knesset chairman. That means that Netanyahu will stand trial unless he reaches a plea bargain or receives immunity from the Knesset. Meanwhile, Netanyahu continues to make his own rules.

Netanyahu won the office for the first time in 1996, after his Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination. In the direct elections, Netanyahu succeeded in defeating Shimon Peres by only 29,457 votes. At the time, I was a political correspondent on Israeli television’s Channel One. I saw Netanyahu, shocked by his unexpected achievement, close himself up with his advisers and associates and send them out on diplomatic missions. Attorney Yitzhak Molcho (a partner of Netanyahu’s cousin, attorney David Shimron) became the prime minister’s chief diplomatic emissary. Netanyahu asked Molcho to go to Gaza to meet PLO leader Yasser Arafat about the Oslo Accords that Netanyahu had promised to destroy.”

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