chapter  6
Fracture
Pages 43

The direct election for the Prime Minister, legislated during the 1992-96 term, was first put into effect in the 1996 elections, in which Netanyahu won by a very narrow margin. Israel retained the proportional representation system and the low threshold of 1.5 per cent for parties to enter the Knesset. Since people could now choose the Prime Minister directly, they felt safe to cast their separate vote for the party they favoured most. Consequently, small parties, which had previously held a total of 30 per cent of the seats, now increased their share to 36.3 per cent and two new parties entered the Knesset, with a combined strength of 8.8 per cent. Though Labour lost almost 10 per cent of its strength, Likud made no gains and remained weaker than Labour by 1.7 per cent. Since Netanyahu needed a majority of over 50 per cent in the Knesset in order to govern, he had to form a coalition in which several other parties would constitute at least half of the cabinet (Likud had won 25.1 per cent of the votes). The obvious weakness of such a government, rent between different and often opposing interests, was exacerbated by the political inexperience of the new Prime Minister, frequent incidents of ineptitude and his equivocal programme of action. The following analysis will concentrate only on those events since the 1996 elections which are relevant to the subject at hand, namely those which have impinged on the crisis of identity which Israeli society is undergoing.