In Israel, minor parties can hold as much power as larger ones

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Likud supporters have recently started writing their eulogies for the current coalition led by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett. “A little leaven leavens the whole lump,” wrote Paul to the Galatian church, and an already shaky government was plunged into chaos over chametz in public hospitals at the beginning of this month.

While the coalition was trying to figure out what to do in light of the current events, another Yamina MK, Nir Orbach, presented an ultimatum to PM Naftali Bennett to remain in the coalition. What did MK Orbach want? The restoration of daycare subsidies for children of yeshiva students, among other things.

First – subsidies. According to the new policy, only the parents of children in daycare, who are employed for at least 24 hours a week, will be eligible for subsidies. The policy change was meant to motivate the religious population of Israel to join the workforce and strengthen the economy. Nevertheless, Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman met with Orbach and conceded to the ultimatum to save the sinking ship.

Second – Settler homes. Orbach demanded that the Higher Planning Council for Judea and Samaria be convened to authorize building new homes in the West Bank. He also demanded that the government hook up young settlements to the electricity grid there. The council falls under Defense Minister Benny Gantz. Although some middle ground has been achieved in settlement matters between him and Bennett, the course of action the ex-general will take is unclear.

Yamina is clearly falling apart and likely won’t survive in a future election round. Its members will be dispersed among the right-wing bloc parties, and with Bennet’s popularity at the polls laughable, his political future is unclear. As a deterrent for future Silmans, MK Amichai Chikli, who declined to join the coalition when it was first formed, was declared a defector, which means that he will not be able to join any existing party in the current Knesset term nor in the next.

With all that turmoil, the Likud with Bibi still lacks a majority. There’s supposed to be a faction to tip the scales in favor of either right or left-wing blocs, and that might be the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated party Ra’am headed by Mansour Abbas. Last elections, Abbas held talks with the Likud to join a coalition led by Benjamin Netanyahu. Still, strong voices within the bloc prevented the Arab list from sharing a table with its nationalistically oriented members. Those who understood that there could not be a government without some compromise joined together in an improbable union.

All the above brings us to the crux of the matter; Idit Silman’s departure and Nir Orbach’s ultimatum reflect the flaky nature of the Israeli political system. Minor parties and even individuals (depending on the balance among the MKs) can extort anything from the ruling party just to have a running government. That is the success story of minor parties – if the playing field is even, a party has immense power to tip the scales and crown a PM of their choice (not without a price, of course).

Israeli society is highly diverse, and because our system of government is based on parliamentary democracy (multi-party system), it is tough to hold a steady government. The existing approach reached a low point in the public eye during the coalition crisis in March 1990, when the government dismantled its national unity and the major parties looked for individual coalitions, causing the Knesset to jump from bloc to bloc for political appointments and benefits. Switching to the system of directly electing the prime minister was attempted without much success. Other suggestions have been put forward by the Israeli Democracy Institute, like changing the method of elections to the Knesset to include components of voting regions, a moderate increase of the electoral threshold, anchoring the Norwegian Law, and conducting internal elections (primaries) on Election Day.

At any rate, to cease the stagnation, something needs to change in the same system and structure of Israeli politics. But unfortunately, drastic changes are implausible to occur in the foreseeable future; until (and if) that happens, coalitions will continue to contend, crack, and crumble over bread crumbs in state-funded hospital hallways.