How a Tiny Change to Voting Laws Created Israel’s Political Crisis

On November 1, Israelis will vote in their fifth national election in less than four years. Examining the roots of the current political deadlock, Haviv Rettig Gur, interviewing Shany Mor—both regular writers for Mosaic—notes the effects of a seemingly minor reform adopted in 2014. That reform raised the electoral threshold—the minimum proportion of votes required for a party to be represented in the Knesset—from 2 percent to 3.25 percent. Rather than reducing the influence of the fringe political parties, as its proponents promised it would, increasing the threshold appears to have had the opposite effect:

Most Arab-majority parties drew between 2 percent and 4 percent of the vote [in 2014] and so were threatened by the change. Most far-right Jewish parties drew less than 2 percent; the increase seemingly put the Knesset far beyond their reach. But, explained the reformers, that only meant they’d have to join with factions outside the confines of their narrow ideological camp, a requirement that would force them to moderate their views and, ultimately, strengthen their representation in parliament.

But the parties didn’t unify as quickly as expected, and elections came to be decided by which small factions avoided the grim fate that waited at the cutoff. Instead of reducing their importance, the new threshold transformed the tiniest factions into the pivot of every ensuing election. Victory for the largest parties became dependent on the fate of the smallest. A slight drop in Arab turnout or increase in right-wing turnout would, by the merciless logic of the new threshold, decide the fate of national politics.

Once-untouchable extremists on the Jewish right were brought into the fold, from the Kahanist Otzma Yehudit to the homophobic Noam. Instead of freeing the larger parties from the burden of marginal players, those margins were empowered. . . . Balad, the most fervently Palestinian-nationalist and explicitly anti-Zionist of the Arab parties—and also the least popular, the only one that struggled to clear even the pre-2014 threshold of 2 percent—[after being forced into a merger with the somewhat more moderate Ḥadash] had been granted a veto over Arab politics writ large that it hadn’t possessed before the threshold reform.

That should not have surprised the threshold reformers of 2014. It’s a basic rule of negotiations: the most strident party, the one more willing to walk away, is inevitably the one with the upper hand.

Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Israeli politics, Knesset

Why Egypt Fears an Israeli Victory in Gaza

While the current Egyptian president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, has never been friendly to Hamas, his government has objected strenuously to the Israeli campaign in the southernmost part of the Gaza Strip. Haisam Hassanein explains why:

Cairo has long been playing a double game, holding Hamas terrorists near while simultaneously trying to appear helpful to the United States and Israel. Israel taking control of Rafah threatens Egypt’s ability to exploit the chaos in Gaza, both to generate profits for regime insiders and so Cairo can pose as an indispensable mediator and preserve access to U.S. money and arms.

Egyptian security officials have looked the other way while Hamas and other Palestinian militants dug tunnels on the Egyptian-Gaza border. That gave Cairo the ability to use the situation in Gaza as a tool for regional influence and to ensure Egypt’s role in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict would not be eclipsed by regional competitors such as Qatar and Turkey.

Some elements close to the Sisi regime have benefited from Hamas control over Gaza and the Rafah crossing. Media reports indicate an Egyptian company run by one of Sisi’s close allies is making hundreds of millions of dollars by taxing Gazans fleeing the current conflict.

Moreover, writes Judith Miller, the Gaza war has been a godsend to the entire Egyptian economy, which was in dire straits last fall. Since October 7, the International Monetary Fund has given the country a much-needed injection of cash, since the U.S. and other Western countries believe it is a necessary intermediary and stabilizing force. Cairo therefore sees the continuation of the war, rather than an Israeli victory, as most desirable. Hassanein concludes:

Adding to its financial incentive, the Sisi regime views the Rafah crossing as a crucial card in preserving Cairo’s regional standing. Holding it increases Egypt’s relevance to countries that want to send aid to the Palestinians and ensures Washington stays quiet about Egypt’s gross human-rights violations so it can maintain a stable flow of U.S. assistance and weaponry. . . . No serious effort to turn the page on Hamas will yield the desired results without cutting this umbilical cord between the Sisi regime and Hamas.

Read more at Washington Examiner

More about: Egypt, Gaza War 2023, U.S. Foreign policy