The Foundation for Constitutional Democracy


1o Short Position Papers - I

Filed under: Cabinet/Executive Papers — admin @ 12:37 pm

I - Why Israel Needs A Presidential Form of Government
Professor Paul Eidelberg

The first concern of any statesman is National Unity on the one hand, and National Security on the other. This should be obvious in a country like Israel, surrounded by autocratic regimes.

To obtain national unity, Israel needs a Unitary Executive. Even now, with a popularly elected prime minister, Israel has not a Unitary but a Plural Executive. This is the consequence of coalition cabinet government. Coalition cabinet government, with its multiplicity of parties—each with its own agenda—is inherently incapable of formulating and executing coherent, comprehensive, and resolute national policies.

The best defense of a Unitary Executive was made by Alexander Hamilton in THE FEDERALIST PAPERS, one of the greatest works on statesmanship. His argument is more valid for Israel today than it was for America in 1788.

Hamilton emphasizes the need for “energy” in the Executive—by which he means a set of institutional ingredients
conducive to vigorous pursuit of national goals. The first ingredient he mentions is “unity.” He writes: “That unity is conducive to energy will not be disputed. Decision, activity, secrecy, and dispatch [swiftness] will generally characterize the proceedings of one man [far more so] than the proceedings of any greater number; and in proportion as the number is increased, these qualities will be diminished.”

He goes on to say: “This unity can be destroyed in two ways: either by vesting the power in two or more ministers of equal dignity and authority; or by vesting it ostensibly in one man, subject, in whole or in part, to the control and cooperation of others, in the capacity of counselors …” Clearly Hamilton would have deplored coalition cabinet government! But this is not all.

He points out that a plural executive gives rise to personal rivalry and animosity, and that in times of crisis it can split the nation into violent factions. Besides, men often oppose a thing because they have had no part in planning it, or because it may have been proposed by those whom they dislike. Sound familiar?

To secure Unity in the Executive, members of the President’s cabinet must share his ideology as well as the programs he advocated during his election campaign. This is impossible under Israel’s system of coalition cabinet government, in which the Prime Minister must accommodate the conflicting interests of the parties composing his cabinet. The result is inept government and political paralysis to say nothing of political corruption. Meanwhile, coalition cabinet government compels the Prime Minister to violate his campaign pledges, the effect of which is to arouse public cynicism or contempt for politicians.

It should also be noted that coalition cabinet government enables foreign powers to play one party against another. This sort of government tends to foster disloyalty, especially among opposition parties in the Knesset. In Israel “partisan politics does not stop at the water’s edge.”

Finally, Unity in the Executive requires that the members of the President’s cabinet hold no other public office. Nor must any cabinet member be the head of any political party.

We have been referring, of course, to a presidential system where the President exercises executive power. Opponents will raise the bogey-man of dictatorship. This is shear nonsense. Nevertheless, the power invested in the President should be balanced by a legislature possessing far more power, de facto as well as de jure, than that exercised by the present Knesset.

This will be the subject of another paper.