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Mandate - Really?

GS Don Morris, Ph.D.
April 16, 2006

"According to Olmert, the convergence plan is the only alternative to continued fighting. Physical separation from the Palestinians, he said, will reduce daily friction and violence.

"Olmert reiterated that he doesn't plan to hold a national referendum or other vote to seek additional legitimacy for the pullout. Last month's election, he said, proved a majority of Israelis share his vision." (14 Nissan 5766, Wednesday, April 12, 2006, J. Post)

This not the first time Prime Minister Olmert has stated that he received a mandate from the people in last month's elections to unilaterally move out of Judea and Samaria. He says, time and again, that the retreat policy has been ratified by Israelis and thus there is no need to go directly to the citizens to determine the validity of such a claim. Let us examine the data and then let you decide if Mr. Olmert's perception is close to the facts.

For those who are not familiar with Israel's political system the following will be most helpful in determining for yourself if you think Mr. Olmert's party captured enough votes to be declared a mandate from the people. Israel's electoral system is based on nation-wide proportional representation. Every citizen of Israel above the age of 18 has a right to cast one vote, by secret ballot, selecting a political party to represent him in the Knesset (parliament). The Knesset has 120 electoral seats. Thus, voters elect a party slate rather than a particular candidate. The percentage of total votes each party receives directly determines how many Knesset seats that party is awarded (Jerusalem Post summary).

Each individual party selects who will fill the Knesset seats according to the number of mandates it is awarded in the national election. Each party draws up a list of its Knesset candidates in order of priority. If, for example, a party wins 10 percent of the vote and earns 12 mandates, the first twelve party members on the list will obtain Knesset seats. Each party creates its Knesset list according to the party's chosen method. Some elect representatives through party primaries, other choose via the party's institutions, while in ultra-religious parties the representatives are often appointed by the party's spiritual leader (Jerusalem Post summary). Please note that Israeli citizens do not directly vote for their party Knesset members-this is left to the individual party leadership. Individual citizens vote only for a political party.

The March 2006 election proved less than interesting for Israelis. This election was the lowest voter participation in the history of the country. In the Jewish population, 62.3% of voters choose to exercise their voting rights. In the non-Jewish population, 56% of the eligible voters went to the polls. For Americans these percentages would be considered just fine; however, it is all about perspective here in Israel. Please note that during the two previous elections the data shows that 68.9% voted for the 16th Knesset while four years earlier, during elections for the 15th Knesset, the percentage was 78.7%. If one only examines the percentage voter's numbers for this year's elections, a little over half of the citizens voted while historically nearly three-quarters of the voters typically vote in the elections.

Now, of the number of voters who turned out to vote, Mr. Olmert's party, Kadima, garnered 29 seats or stated another way but 24% of the total Knesset seats available. The Labor Party earned 19 seats. This represents but 16% of the available seats. Here are the results for the remaining parties-number of seats are identified as well as the percentage of Knesset seats each party obtained:
Shas12 mandates10% of possible seats
Likud12 mandates10%
Yisrael Beitenu11 mandates9%
Ichud Leumi Mafdal9 mandates7.5%
Gil (Pensioners)7 mandates5.8%
Torah and Shabbat Judaism6 mandates5%
Meretz5 mandates4.2%
United Arab List - Arab Renewal4 mandates3%
National Democratic Assembly3 mandates2.5%
Hadash3 mandates2.5%

If one only uses these numbers to determine whether or not a mandate was received it is difficult to argue that receiving but 24% of available Knesset seats supports one's point of view. This also does not indicate that the general population was enthralled with Kadima's platform either. However, Mr. Olmert indicates that indeed Israelis support his positions.

Some would say wait just a moment argue that you cannot only look at a single party's results, Israel's form of government is a parliamentary democracy which means by design it requires coalition building to establish a majority government that can then govern effectively. Therefore, you have to examine the remaining parties' platforms to determine whether or not in total they support Mr. Olmert's contention that the Israeli people support his retreat policy. The following is admittedly a simple presentation of some parties' platforms:

Kadima: Draw Israel's borders according to the road map while maintaining settlement blocs-unilateral withdrawal

Labor: Two-state solution, pro-fence, unilateral withdrawals, evacuation of settlement blocs however hanging onto major settlement blocs in the future

Likud: Opposition to unilateral withdrawal, may be willing to give up several isolated settlements-ready to make real concessions although most vague

National religious Party: Mixed with national Union, platform unclear but may be willing to make territorial concessions.

Shas: Helping the poor, supporting Sephardi Ultra-Orthodox causes

Yisrael Beitenu: Trade the Palestinians land in the Gallilee heavily populated by Arabs for expanded settlement blocs in the West Bank

Meretz: Return to the 1967 borders with minor adjustments involving territorial exchanges; division of Jerusalem; solve refugee problem w/o a right of return to Israel

In terms of stated platforms, the ideas the parties officially adopted to garner votes, it is really only safe to argue that Kadima, Labor and Meretz ran on a unilateral withdrawal policy. Yes, it is true, since the election other parties have indicated a willingness to join Kadima's coalition government. Please understand that this is often a political move to join the ruling coalition so that your party's real agenda can be funded. For example, Shas, an ultra-Orthodox party is more concerned about its institution's programs and desperately needs an infusion of money to continue to manage itself as it sees necessary. The politically expedient action is to join the perceived party in power as it creates its coalition and thus support that party's unilateral withdrawal policy.

Examining the numbers one last time, you can see that really 45% of the possible Knesset seats were acquired by three main political parties. Perspective is equally important when examining these numbers. Perhaps a little more than half of Israel's voters went to the polls. Within this under performing group, Kadima could only manage 29% or 24 Knesset seats out of 120 possible. Their so-called partners in retreat policy could collectively muster only another 21% or 24 seats in the Knesset. To make matters more succinct, it is worth noting that pre-election polls had Kadima acquiring upwards up to 40 seats. The final results were a disappointment (privately) to the party and I believe demonstrative of overall lack of Israeli support for the so-called mandate. For a country's leadership then to make policy with such a lackluster popular support seems to be to be less than intelligent. Of course I could be incorrect!

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