Since Israel’s elections in April of last year, the country has had a lame-duck government, authorized to stay in power until the Knesset approves a new coalition. Three elections later, it remains unclear which party, if any, will be able to form a coalition. But one thing is clear from last week’s election: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud received more votes than it did in September. Evelyn Gordon argues that the prime minister benefited from the Israeli voter’s frustration with political stalemate:
[T]here are many things a lame-duck government cannot do. It can’t make appointments, so senior civil-service posts have been empty for a year. It can’t pass a new budget or allocate any funding that wasn’t included in the previous year’s budget, so vital new programs—like the army’s five-year development plan and desperately needed infrastructure projects—have gone unfunded. And vital old programs, including pilot projects to help Israel’s neediest, have shut down because their funding was only approved for a year and a lame-duck government can’t renew it. The government also can’t address the yawning deficit by cutting spending or raising taxes.
To be clear, Israeli law doesn’t prevent a lame-duck government from doing any of this. Moreover, as the High Court of Justice admitted in a 2001 ruling, that wasn’t an oversight; the Knesset considered this issue during the state’s early years, but ultimately accepted a public commission’s recommendation against restricting lame-duck governments, lest such restrictions hamper their ability to act in an emergency.
But the court, always convinced that it knows better than the legislature and scornful of that quaint democratic principle which holds that law should be made by elected legislators rather than unelected justices, decided decades ago to overrule the Knesset on this issue.
Had the court simply upheld the law and allowed lame-duck governments to exercise their full powers, Israel would not have accumulated such a long list of unaddressed burning issues over the past year, and a critical mass of anti-Netanyahu voters wouldn’t have concluded that any government—even one headed by a man under indictment—was better than none at all. In other words, with its own hands, the court created the very problem that may now result in a government willing and able to enact legal reforms [curtailing the court’s power], which the court [naturally] opposes bitterly.