How can we make sense of Israeli politics?

Israeli is the only country in the Middle East which, despite criticisms of its treatment of Aran citizens, operates a democratic political system, so it is surprising that the world’s media gives so little attention to its political system and its politics.

Three weeks ago, Israel held a general election in which the two main political blocks tied with 35 seats each in a Knesset of 120. The incumbent and long-standing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is best placed to put together a coalition that will have a majority in the legislature.

Israeli democracy is a source – simultaneously and in almost equal measure – of both pride and frustration.

Israelis are rightly proud that their country is the only genuine and functioning democracy in the Middle East, a region dominated by repressive and dictatorial regimes. It is a democracy that has survived repeated wars and that, with a conscript army and formidable military apparatus, remains on a war-like footing. It is a democracy in which the rule of law is so strong that even a president (Moshe Katsav) or a prime minister (Ehud Olmert) can be indicted (for rape and bribery respectively).

On the other hand, Israeli’s strange electoral system and fractious political parties virtually guarantee that the government will be a coalition of very different political parties with a strong likelihood that at least one will be a nationalist or ultra-religious one with disproportionate influence in the government. This makes ruling and legislating – even more negotiating with the Palestinians – very difficult, so that on average Israeli governments last only half their permitted term (two years instead of four).

For an explanation of how the Israeli political system works and the result of the recent general election, check out my guide here.


XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>