Does the System Work?

Pros and cons of the Israeli electoral system.

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The Future

Among the ideas perennially suggested to reform the Israeli political system is the replacement of proportional representation with the Anglo-American system of district representatives. This would be accomplished by dividing Israel into 120 districts, each with one Knesset member. The country would be led by a directly elected prime minister who would serve under a mandate from the people rather than being dependent on tenuous and shifting coalitions.

A counter-claim in defense of the proportional representation system points to the fact that district systems have their downsides too. Gerrymandering--the drawing of district boundaries in order to reduce or magnify the representation of a particular segment of society--is always a concern in district representation, one that is absent in proportional representation systems. Another concern is that representatives of particular districts might favor the interests of their constituents above national considerations.

In response to these objections, a compromise suggestion has been raised, which is based on Central European electoral systems of recent vintage. This idea calls for half of the Knesset members to be district representatives, while the other half would be "at-large" members elected under a proportional system, thus attaining the best of both systems.

The half-and-half proposal is currently only one suggestion out of many being discussed by Israelis. Meanwhile, the electoral system remains the same proportional system it has been since the founding of the state, with all the attendant challenges. The next Israeli prime minister will likely need the fortitude to deal with the same type of coalition pressures with which all his predecessors struggled.

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Ziv Hellman is a Jerusalem-based writer and mathematician. A former editor at the Jerusalem Post, Ziv was a founding member of Peace Watch--the watchdog group reporting on the implementation of the Oslo Agreements. He also led the Israeli elections observer team evaluating the Palestinian Authority elections.