Israel’s next general election will take place next Tuesday, November 1, 2022, in accordance with the Law for the Dissolution of the 24th Knesset and Parties’ Financing Law, 5782-2022 (Dissolution Law). The Dissolution Law provides for the dissolution of the current Knesset (parliament) before the completion of its term and for national elections to take place. The November elections will be the fifth election in less than four years. This post is part of our Frequently Asked Legal Questions series.
What is the Term of Office of a Government in Israel?
In accordance with the Basic Law: the Government, “[t]he Government holds office by virtue of the confidence of the Knesset” (§ 3). The Knesset’s term is defined by Basic Law: the Knesset as “four years from the day on which it is elected” (§ 8). However, the Knesset may dissolve itself before the end of its term “by the adoption of a law on this matter by a majority of the Knesset Members.” (§ 34 Basic Law: the Knesset.)
Why is it Necessary to Form a Coalition Government?
The government and its ministers are installed following a vote of confidence by at least 61 of the 120 Knesset members. No party has ever been able to obtain such a majority without entering into coalition agreements with other parties.
What is the Status of the Government After the Knesset Dissolves Itself?
Based on the principle of continuity of government, “the outgoing Government shall continue to perform its functions until the new Government is formed” (Basic Law: the Government § 30 (b)). The outgoing government is considered an interim or transitional government (ממשלת מעבר). As explained below, the interim government may be in power for a significant period of time.
Are the Authorities of an Interim Government Restricted in Any Way?
Israeli constitutional law does not recognize a special doctrine that reduces the powers of an interim government to routine operations only. In a 2001 decision, Israel’s High Court of Justice (HCJ) determined, however, that an outgoing government must act reasonably and proportionately and “… exercise restraint worthy of the status of an outgoing government” while ensuring stability and continuity (HCJ 5167/2000 Weiss v. Prime Minister of Israel).
The HCJ held in a later case that there was a direct correlation between the government’s duty to act and the duty to use restraint in any given case. The greater the degree of public interest in increasing governmental action, the required degree of restraint will decrease, and vice versa. (HCJ 8815/05 Landstein v. Spigler.)
In accordance with the Court’s rulings, the state attorney (AG) has issued directives regulating governmental appointments during an election period (Directive 1.1501), and the issue of promises or commitments for the distribution of benefits or the allocation of budgets in the course of election activity (Directive 1.1904).
The HCJ has entertained various petitions regarding the scope of authorities of interim governments. These include the authority to negotiate international agreements, and the authority to appoint high level officials.
How did the HCJ Rule Regarding the Authority of an Interim Government to Negotiate or Enter International Agreements?
In its 2001 Weiss decision, the HCJ rejected a claim that the interim government at the time, headed by Prime Minister (PM) Ehud Barak, was not authorized to continue negotiations with the Palestinian Authority (PA) following the PM’s resignation, during the period before the elections and the establishment of a new government. The Court’s conclusion was based on, among others, the AG’s declaration, that if any agreement was reached between the representatives of the outgoing government and the representatives of the PA, it would include a condition that the validity of the agreement in the international arena would depend on the receipt of necessary approvals in accordance with Israeli domestic law, including its approval by the government and the Knesset.(HCJ 5167/2000 Court President Aharon Barak’s opinion, para 16.)
On October 23, 2022, the HCJ rejected petitions filed by several petitioners against the current interim government’s plan to approve a maritime border agreement with Lebanon. The reasoning is expected at a later date.
How did the HCJ Rule on Appointments of High Level Officials by Interim Governments?
On September 22, 2022, the HCJ unanimously accepted a petition to cancel the interim government’s appointment of a chairman for the Committee on Appointments of Senior Positions (SP Committee) for a full, eight-year term. The appointment was intended to fill the vacancy in SP Committee to address the vital need of completion of the procedures for the appointment of an Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff. The Court reiterated that an outgoing government must refrain to the extent possible from making appointments, even when a specific need for a necessary appointment arises. Under such circumstances, except in exceptional cases, a temporary appointment to the SP Committee should be preferred over a permanent appointment. (HCJ 5403/22 Lavi, Civil Rights, Proper Administration and Encouragement of [Land] Settlement v. the Prime Minister.)
Similarly, ahead of the September 2019 election, the HCJ ordered the appointment of a director general of the Ministry of Justice to be put on hold until the minister of justice explains why his removal of the former director general of the Ministry who had served in that role for the past five years, should not be voided, and why the appointment of a new director general during a transitional government and an election period should not be held unlawful. (HC 5063/19 Movement for Quality of Government in Israel v. Minister of Justice.)
When Will a “Regular” Government Get into Place?
It is hard to say, but in principle the process of inaugurating a new government could last up to 117 days from publication of the election result. This could take even longer, if it is not possible to form a coalition government based on the election results and there is a need for a new election. The following diagram shows the timeline that corresponds with government formation under Basic Law: The Government.
What are the Law Library of Congress Resources on Israeli Elections and Election Campaign Laws?
The Law Library of Congress has conducted several webinars on related topics, such as the “Removal of Head of State Based on Incapacity or Criminal Activities: Case Study Israel” (March 25, 2021); What You Need to Know about the Upcoming Israeli National Election (Feb. 27, 2020); and World Trends in Elections and Campaign Financing Regulations (Oct. 22, 2020).
In Custodia Legis Posts
A search of our blog under the term “Israel election” identifies a number of blog posts, discussing a variety of issues including:
- Here We Go Again: Forming a Coalition Government Israeli Style (September 26, 2019)
- FALQs: Israel’s Upcoming 2015 General Elections (March 2, 2015)
- Israel’s 2013 Elections: The Making of a Coalition Government (January 22, 2013)
- Israel’s Upcoming National Elections: Background Information (November 5, 2012)
We have recently reported of the Law Library’s significant milestone—the release of over 3,000 digitized and born-digital historical reports, with additional reports being added on a weekly basis. The reports are included in our Legal Reports (Publications of the Law Library of Congress) collection.
A search of the legal reports collection under the term “Israel election” has identified numerous reports. Among them are:
- Israel: 2013 Government Composition and Coalition Agreements (Apr. 2013)
- Israel: Disqualification of Party Lists from Participating in General Elections (Jan. 2009)
- Israel: Regulation of Foreign Contributions to Political Campaigns (Sep. 2008)
- Israel: Campaign Finance Regulation of Advocacy Activities by Non Profit Organizations ( 2000)
- Regulation of Campaign Finance and Free Advertising (2016)
- Foreign campaign contributions under Israeli law (Feb. 1997)
- Voting Rights of U.S. Citizens in Israeli National Elections (Sep. 1999)
Global Legal Monitor Articles
The Global Legal Monitor (GLM) is a Law Library of Congress’ online publication that covers legal news and developments worldwide. The GLM collection includes a number of articles on Israeli elections and politics. These include:
- Israel: Parliament Dissolves Itself, Approves National Election and Financing Adjustments (July 2022)
- Israel: Knesset Expresses Confidence in New Rotating Coalition Government (June 2021)
- Israel: High Court Rejects Petition to Open Criminal Investigation against Former Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Wexner Foundation (Jan, 2021)
- Israel: Amendment to Basic Law Enables Parties to Rotate Knesset Members Who Become Ministers (Sept. 2020)
- Israel: Supreme Court Again Rejects Petition for Court to Rule on Indicted Knesset Member’s Eligibility for Prime Ministership (Apr. 2020)
- Israel: Supreme Court Holds Eligibility of Knesset Member Facing Serious Offenses Indictment to Form Government Is Justiciable but Not Before Election (Jan. 2020)
Several GLM articles address activities of the Central Election Committee, a statutory body chaired by a Supreme Court justice to carry out the elections process. They include:
- Israel: Central Election Committee Orders Removal of Misleading Video, Calling It Unfair Interference with Campaign Advertising (March 2020)
- Israel: Central Elections Committee for 23rd Knesset Reaffirms Rules for Recording and Photographing at Polling Stations on Election Day (Feb. 2020)
- Israel: Central Elections Committee Issues Rules for Recording and Photographing at Polling Stations on Election Day (Aug. 2019)
- Israel: Central Elections Committee Requires Transparency for Election Ads on the Internet (July 2019)
- Israel: Knesset Authorizes Eligibility Restriction on Knesset Candidates Convicted of Terrorism or Security Offenses (May, 2018)
Subscribe to In Custodia Legis – it’s free! – to receive interesting posts drawn from the Law Library of Congress’s vast collections and our staff’s expertise in U.S., foreign, and international law.