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Israeli electoral reform? Not yet


JERUSALEM, July 16 (JTA) — Electoral reform in Israel will have to take a back seat to the peace process.

This is the prediction of political observers in Jerusalem who surveyed the likely legislative scenarios following the Camp David summit.

The observers offered this assessment despite a vote in the Knesset last week, when legislators gave preliminary approval to a bill that would cancel the current law providing for the direct election of the prime minister.

The direct election law was first implemented for the 1996 election, which brought former Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu to power.

One of the bill’s sponsors, Meretz legislator Naomi Hazan, charged that the current electoral system gives far too much political power to the smaller parties.

The Knesset already has a similar bill on its agenda. Legislators Yossi Beilin, now justice minister, and Uzi Landau of Likud jointly introduced it toward the end of the last Knesset’s term. Their bill passed a preliminary vote and the first of three required additional votes, and was carried over to the new Knesset.

The Beilin-Landau bill is due for further consideration by November.

But by then, say observers, the political situation will probably have undergone cataclysmic changes in the wake of the Camp David summit.

The following are the possible scenarios:

• Prime Minister Ehud Barak returns with an agreement, submits it to the Knesset and asks the House to pass legislation to hold a national referendum on the peace deal.

• The Knesset agrees to do this. Barak wins the referendum; his government stays in office; the parties of the coalition — which, by then, may well have grown larger again — consider at a leisurely pace their positions on electoral reform.

• The Knesset refuses to hold a referendum. Barak resigns and calls an election in which the key issue is the agreement he brought home. That election, inevitably — because there has been no time to reform the law — is held under the present electoral system, which involves separate votes for the prime minister and the Knesset.

• Again, whether Barak wins or loses the election, the new government coalition returns at its leisure to take up the electoral reform question, with the additional experience of a third election under the direct voting system to help it determine whether to maintain the system or revert to the previous system, as the reformers advocate.

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