17 OCTOBER UPDATE: As noted by Wilf in the comment thread, President Katsav’s long-awaited electoral-reform proposal has been released. I have moved that to a new discussion; see the scion grafted to this planting (i.e., link at the bottom of this post). Thanks to Wilf, Bob, and Espen for the information.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert may create a ministry for strategic affairs for Avigdor Lieberman, leader of the right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu party, if he joins the coalition.
Lieberman recently told Olmert that he is willing to make do with control of a single ministry should his party join the government. Sources close to Olmert said the chances of that happening were greater than 50 percent, although it is not yet a done deal.
The report also notes that MKs of Yisrael Beiteinu are not pleased with the idea of just one ministry, given that the size of the party would proportionally entitle it to three or four.
Olmert’s main governing partner, the Labor party, is also not happy at the idea of brining such a far-right party into the government. However, Olmert claims he needs another party on his side due to Labor MK’s defecting on some votes. He also says he is not changing the coalition guidelines.
Lieberman continues to insist on his proposal for a “presidential” system, but there is no Knesset majority for it currently. Previously, I had expressed skepticism that what Lieberman was seeking actually amounted to a presidential system, in which the head of government would be directly elected for a fixed term and have unilateral powers to appoint the cainet (as opposed to simply strengthening PM). However, Tom Segev in Haaretz takes it as a proposal for the real thing, with some serious backing:
Whenever there’s nothing else to talk about, like when the state is virtually shut down during the Sukkot holiday, someone comes along and proposes a new governmental system. This week, the proposal came from the loftiest penthouse of the Israeli elite: from two ministers and a former Shin Bet security services chief, a retired general and an impressive array of other big shots…
Arik Carmon, president of the Israel Democracy Institute (IDI), said this week that a presidential system may be good for someone else, though this isn’t at all certain, but that in Israel this someone would have to be a person in the vein of Putin or Chavez: tyrannical, populist, corrupt.
Segev further worries that
In a country with a weak democratic culture like Israel, the president could govern by coercion and violence, without consent… A presidential system strengthens the connection between money and government and encourages political appointments, because that’s how it goes in a presidential system: the spoils are given out. We had something similar, in the days of the policy of direct election for prime minister. They were called “nonprofit associations” (amutot in Hebrew). The president governs by the winner-take-all method: The civil service essentially works in the service of the president. This encourages personal dependence and discourages professional excellence.
While some of those objections may be exaggerated somewhat, I would tend to agree with the concerns that a presidential system is not appropriate for Israel.