Published daily by the Lowy Institute

Israel: New electoral law is a hope for peace

Israel: New electoral law is a hope for peace
Published 24 Apr 2013 

Jack Georgieff is the 2013 Thawley Research Scholar in International Security at the Lowy Institute and the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Washington DC.

This week Chuck Hagel called on the new Israeli Government. Only a few weeks before, John Kerry was pushing Arab-Israeli peace talks. Obama visited Israel last month too. From all sides, and pulling out all the diplomatic stops, the Obama Administration is pushing for peace.

Benjamin Netanyahu's fresh coalition is still unlikely to pursue a permanent peace deal with the Palestinians, given the inconsistencies in policy with Yesh Atid (the largest coalition partner for Netanyahu's Likud-Beiteinu) and the inclusion of Jewish Home (the staunch pro-settler party) that is vehemently against any territorial concessions.

So how can peace be forged from here? Surely it remains as elusive as ever?

In the short term, yes. Yair Lapid (chairman of Yesh Atid) and Naftali Bennett (chairman of Jewish Home) remain obstacles to Netanyahu and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni negotiating a coherent peace plan. These coalition partners also have Likud-Beiteinu allies in the hawkish Minister of Defence, Moshe Ya’alon, and his deputy, Danny Danon.  Prepare for a few years of interesting coalition politics (read: dysfunction or possible collapse).

Yet within the final coalition agreements that Netanyahu struck is a deal to change the electoral threshold in Israel's proportional representation system from 2% to 4%. [fold]

This new threshold puts Israel roughly in line with other liberal democracies with proportional representation, including Sweden and Norway (both 4%) and Germany and New Zealand (both 5%). If this threshold is in force at the next election, it could see the number of parties reduced. That's a trend that could continue long term.

Under the current 2% threshold, any party achieving roughly 78,000 votes can be seated in the Knesset. As a case in point, Jewish Home only achieved 2.87% of the vote in 2009. If a higher threshold had been in place, it would have been harder for it to achieve representation in the election just gone. (Though some argue the new threshold could pose a major challenge to Israel's Arab parties too, which usually poll under 4%.)

It would be foolish to use this development for any crystal ball gazing. But other liberal democracies with similar electoral systems show that voters reward mainstream parties that promise stability and middle-of-the-road policies, and punish smaller parties that try to 'wag the dog' whilst in coalition.

This reform may well be a silver lining in a new government all but bereft of a coherent plan for peace with the Palestinians. It will have huge implications in the long run.

Photo by Flickr user israeltourism.

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