Photo Credit: Haim Zach/GPO
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara cast their vote in Jerusalem, April 9, 2019.

The Shas party on Monday submitted a bill calling for a one-time direct election of Israel’s next prime minister. The bill is being submitted as an amendment to the Basic Law: Government, and would be listed as section 13b.

The details of the bill, first obtained by Yaron Avraham (published on Telegram), and subsequently confirmed and expanded on by JewishPress.com from the original text of the submitted bill are as follows:

  • In one month there will be a national vote on the next prime minister of Israel
  • Any currently serving Knesset Member is eligible to run
  • A candidate must enlist the endorsements of 20 currently serving MKs
  • MKs can only endorse one candidate
  • Only voters who participated in the recent March national election are eligible to vote in order to properly reflect the balance of power before the vote
  • If only one candidate is running, the vote will be a for-or-against vote for that candidate
  • To be declared the winner with the most votes, the candidate must receive at least 40% of the votes
  • Should no candidate receive 40%, or if the candidates receive an equal number of votes, a second-round runoff election will be held between the top two candidates within 2 weeks.
  • As soon as the results are in, all the powers of the prime minister (and the alternative prime minister) will be handed to the winner
  • The winner will have 90 days to establish a new government
  • If no government is formed within 90 days or there is a successful vote of no confidence before the 90 days, general elections will be held at the end of the 90 days from the date of failure to form a government.
  • This is a temporary provision intended to directly solve a current problem of the 24th Knesset
  • This temporary measure may be reevaluated in the future
  • A vote of no confidence, without a replacement government, will dissolve the current Knesset and general elections will be held in 90 days.
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What is intriguing about this bill is what it does not do.

It does not automatically create a coalition government, nor is that its most immediate goal. In fact, all it does is give the winner 90 more days to attempt to form a coalition.

The goal of this bill is to create legitimacy for the winner of the prime ministerial election, with the hope that the other parties, including some of the nay-sayers, will rally around the winner, as the Prime Minister with a confirmed mandate from the people.

Now, if that is not enough to convince the nay-sayers to join their hated opponent’s coalition, it implicitly introduces another factor, in this case, in Netanyahu’s favor.

If general elections are forced to be held again, and assuming Netanyahu won the direct election, his opponents will no longer be able to say that Netanyahu doesn’t have the legitimacy and mandate of the people.

If the vote passes, both Benjamin Netanyahu and Yair Lapid are likely to run for the position. The question is, will Naftali Bennett jump in and make it a 3-way race?

Bennett will need to acquire 20 supporters in the current Knesset, and it is not clear that he will find them, even though a three-way race with a runoff might work against Netanyahu, while a 2-way race would work in Netanyahu’s favor.

Gidon Sa’ar who strongly opposes Netanyahu and refuses to join a Netanyahu coalition has already said he is against direct elections, according to Amit Segal.

Naftali Bennett has not yet expressed his opinion. He has much to win or lose in either scenario.

Some members of Smotrich’s party have given their initial approval.

Yair Lapid has expressed his opposition.

Gantz seems to not be in favor, but hasn’t said so outright.

The Ra’am party is likely to support the bill, for the right price.

Obviously, Shas and the Likud support it.

But the question is, will this bill solve the coalition crisis?

Just the threat of the bill passing might be enough to cause some of the parties, or some MKs, to change their positions before the vote, to either side of the coalition. And if Ra’am supports it, it will almost certainly pass.

And if it passes, the victory will also provide the legitimacy needed for MKs to break away from their current existing parties to join the coalition. Netanyahu only needs 2 more MKs (plus Bennett’s party) to form a coalition, and with a Prime Minister clearly endorsed by the people, almost no one from the small parties will want to be the holdout party that forced new general elections on the people.

So yes, it could work.

And if the bill doesn’t pass?

Lapid is likely to also fail at forming a coalition, and we’re most likely heading to general elections, but this next time around, Bennett won’t do nearly as well as he did after seriously upsetting his voters by trying to play both sides, and Sa’ar’s party is likely to disappear into irrelevancy. And the candidates that vote against direct elections won’t be able to claim the people want them as Prime Minister as they failed to take the opportunity to put their money where their mouth is.

If that’s not an impetus for some of the MKs to get on board with the plan, then nothing is.

And are there any other possibilities?

One remote option that could still happen is that Netanyahu could be voted in as President of Israel (or he steps aside), and he is replaced by someone else in the Likud, and then a natural coalition of the right can be formed.

The other is that Yair Lapid manages to put together a leftwing coalition that relies on the anti-Zionist Arab parties, and lasts long enough to get Netanyahu out of office.

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