BLOG 424 March 10, 2019

WISE ON THE MIDDLE EAST ~ Each week Robert L. Wise, PhD, explores the Middle Eastern situation, ranging from Egypt through Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Israel and the surrounding area. Wise first traveled to Israel and the neighboring countries in 1968. Two of his sons taught in Jordan and Lebanon universities. Wise presents an objective view of the behind the scenes situation in these countries.

How the Israeli government system works

While I was in Israel a few weeks ago, I ask a friend about the upcoming elections. He made an interesting comment saying, “I am more worried about the cabinet than who gets elected Prime Minister. What did he mean?

In Israel whoever is elected Prime Minister must form a cabinet, a government in order to preside. The nature of that cabinet will determine what the government does. This means that the winner of an election must make deals with a wide-range of political parties in order to garner enough support to govern. This means that small margin groups can actually end up in the cabinet and exert an influence far beyond their numbers.

For extra, the ultra-orthodox religious groups that are a minority in the country have been in previous cabinets and wielded a major influence on decisions. Prime Ministers who needed their involvement agreed to deals that majority of Israelis would never have affirmed.

Israel has many, many political parties. Some go out of existence after losing an election and others are created for a special cause during election season. These groups usually have only two or three seats in the Knesset. In some instances, they support causes that are almost laughable.

Last week I reported the alarm sounded both inside Israel and among the Diaspora when Prime Minister Netanyahu began courting the anti-Arab party Otzma Yehudit. These extremist followers of Meir Kahane favor radical military actions such as seizing the Temple Mount and destroying the Mosques there. In order to garner votes, Netanyahu has begun to make a deal with them. Should Netanyahu be re-elected, these extremists could be in the government, swinging a frightening position of power. The Prime Minister’s pursuit of such an extremist group conveys his fear of not having enough votes to make a government even if he wins the election.

A footnote: Tzipi Livni ended her political career this past week. While she may be unknown to many, Livni is a brilliant woman who once worked for Mossad. She was unable to develop a mega-block coalition of the Center Left and had experienced betrayal by people she thought were her friends. In 2008, Livni came close to becoming prime minister. In the 2009 election, she nearly took the day, but Netanyahu prevailed because he was seen as having the better chance of forming a majority coalition. So goes Israeli politics!

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