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27 April 2010

Lessons from Netanyahu’s coalition government

Has proportional representation killed off the two-state solution?

By Ian K Smith

Amid the increasing debate about proportional representation as a deal-breaker for the Liberal Democrats in the likely event of a hung parliament — the central demand of the much-hyped “progressive” politics — it is worth pointing to the suffocating role that the system is playing elsewhere in the world, namely the Israel-Palestine peace process.

With talk of “time running out” on the two-state solution, as meetings between the Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US special envoy George Mitchell failed to secure any real concessions from Israel, arguably it is Israel’s electoral system that has a stranglehold on change.

After the 2008 resignation of Ehud Olmert, his successor Tzipi Livni failed to build a coalition, triggering the 2009 election. Though Livni’s Kadima party finished with the highest vote and most number of seats, the electoral spread left Netanyahu’s Likud free to build a coalition with the “centre-left” Labor Party of Ehud Barak.

The Netanyahu government, from just 22 per cent of the vote last year, has the peace process on its knees. As for Barak, now defence minister and said to be “joined at the hip” with his boss, it is worth remembering his words at the time:

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I will not be anyone’s fig leaf… we will be counter-weight (sic) that will ensure we do not have narrow right-wing government.

Of course, it could be argued that Israel simply does not possess an effective political left. Still, it is hard to see how such a polarising and confused figure as Netanyahu could hold such an office without the vagaries of the proportional system. Beware the green grass.