Written at a time when the threat to Judea and Samaria could not be greater.
Contents:
1. Introduction / Backgroundc 2. Abstract
3. Mission Statement / Introduction
*The Yesha Council
*Members at Large
*Electoral Reform
4. Population
5. Proposed Electoral Solutions
a. Direct Election Method
*Drawing of Electoral Boundaries
b. Proportional Election Method
c. Hybrid Direct and Proportional Election Method
6. Council Format
7. Election Costs
8. Other One-Time and Ongoing Costs
*Initial Costs
*Ongoing Costs
9. Conclusions
Appendix – Summary of Local Elections in Israel

1. Introduction / Background

The Israeli population in Judea and Samaria elects local and regional councils to govern their local affairs, and participates in national elections to choose representative parties in the Knesset. To fill the vacuum of regional representation, the residents of Judea and Samaria and the former Israeli population of the Gaza settlements were represented by the Yesha Council.

The Yesha Council is comprised of the elected leaders of the 25 local and regional councils and by 10 appointed members at large. The council considers its mandate to be comprised of three main functions: Security; Humanitarian and Municipal Needs; Political Action and Public Advocacy.

The council raises funds by three main methods: allocation of local taxes approved in municipal budgets, fundraising, and government sources.

In reality many of the 25 councils do not participate in the council and/or do not contribute tax monies, and the appointed members at large are arbitrarily selected with no criteria. The council has no annual budget, no annual financial report, and no internal auditor. The council heads are elected purely on local issues, and the electorate has almost no say in critical regional concerns that literally affect the immediate and long-term future of the entire region.

At various times over the years, proposals for an elected representative council have been raised, but never followed through on as urgent issues of the day pushed the subject aside. However, in light of the recent failure of the council to have any serious affect on the closing of the Gaza settlements and the deportation of the residents there is a renewed interest in placing the responsibility of the future of Judea and Samaria into the hands of a representative council elected with a specific mandate from the electorate.

2. Abstract

This paper discusses the issues surrounding the Yesha Council and the problems associated with a self-appointed lobbying group that has no direct mandate from the electorate.

As a solution to the ineffectiveness of the council, this paper proposes the council be changed to a directly elected representative body. The types of solutions available and the resources needed to carry out elections and operate the council in its new format are discussed.

3. Mission Statement / Introduction

The Yesha Council

The Israeli residents of Judea and Samaria elect local governments, but have no direct representation at the national level. The national interests of the population are represented by the Council of Jewish Communities in Judea, Samaria and Gaza, known by its acronym as the Yesha Council. In the Knesset, the national interests are represented in various strengths by different parties that take on the case of the residents along with issues confronting their other supporters.

The Council describes itself as follows:

The Council represents all of the cities, towns and villages in Yesha. Its plenum is comprised of twenty five democratically elected mayors and ten other community leaders.

The 25 elected members are the heads of the 25 largest local and regional councils in Judea and Samaria. The ten other leaders are arbitrarily appointed. The council selects from its 35 members a 6-member board representing the six largest councils in the region. At any given time, however, up to half of the mayors may not be active at all on the Yesha council. Some, like Ariel Mayor Ron Nachman, at times boycotted the council and transferred no municipal funds to support it.

A Yesha official told the staffer who prepared this report on June 1, 2006 that nobody knows what the budget of the Yesha Council is, there is no annual report, and no internal auditing department. Funds come from private donations and from the national government. Transfer of municipal tax funds to the Yesha Council was frozen due to a lawsuit by a special interest group.

Members of the council are elected locally on a local platform and do not to represent Judea and Samaria. As Yesha council members, they are accountable only to the council itself and not to any constituency or any electorate, for they are an appointed body.

The abject failure of the Katif campaign came in part as a result of arbitrary measures taken by the council and its failure to deliver the promised goods of preserving the Gush Katif communities. Because of the ongoing Israeli-Arab conflict, residents of the rest of Israel identified Yesha as being separate from and not included in “the state of Israel.” Few of them related to “Yesha” and the Yesha council was seen as representing “the settlers” and not Israelis.

In the wake of the failed 40 million shekel campaign to prevent the expulsion of the Katif communities, the council has not yet changed its name. The stigma of the evacuation coupled with the moniker Yesha – Judea, Samaria and Gaza – is a difficult blot to remove until the council accepts that the Gaza settlements are gone and changes its identity and modus operandi

Questions about the allocation of the 40 million shekels, the lack of a publicly stated budget, the lack of public accounting of its spending, and the lack of mandate from the residents has led to a call for radical reforms. Shaul Goldstein, head of the Gush Etzion Regional Council and a veteran senior member of the Yesha Council said:

“A large segment of our public suddenly realized that the flag we had waved all these years hadn’t forged a connection with anyone. We were the vanguard, leading a nonexistent camp behind us. We ran alone, we charged ahead and when we looked back, we saw that there were no armies, that they simply weren’t there. So I proposed to my friends in Yesha, after the loss of the Gaza Strip, that we announce that there is no Yesha Council – that in its place is another council, one that can embrace other values. That doesn’t mean there is no foundation which people can’t continue to love and aspire to. What it does mean is that we weren’t there to explain to them – in their language – what we want.”

This damning self-criticism from a senior member of the Yesha council shows how out of touch the council is with the residents. Because they are the residents and not the electorate, Goldstein himself realizes that the council only represents itself and must carry out radical reform in order to gain the confidence of the residents.

The Members at Large

There are no criteria for the selection of the members at large, other than their acceptance by the active members of the council. Several of the members at large, like Elyakim Haetzni and Geula Cohen, have been members for years with unknown influence on the policy and activities of the council. Their activities are unaccountable and they have no constituency to answer to.

These two are singled out because they both formerly were leaders of political movements that sat in the Knesset, but were rejected by the electorate and lost their national mandate. The council affords them a platform to keep their policies alive – policies that were rejected by the electorate that left them out of the Knesset and the national consensus. Electoral Reform

This report outlines the steps for the general process to elect a representative council to represent the communities in Judea and Samaria and strengthen democracy in Israel. The candidates for council office would have to present election platforms that would give the electorate the choice of alternatives. Once in power, they would have a time-limited mandate to deliver on their election promises. The succeeding elections would allow the electorate to make their own evaluation of the performance of the council during its mandated tenure, and either support or reject their candidate(s) for re-election.

Goldstein went on to say “…if we had started out the settlement project with a greater consensus with the people, it would look completely different. Now it’s a little late.”

Reforming the Yesha council by turning it into a directly elected representative body will force the elected leaders to be accountable to their electorate.

4. Population

The Israeli population of Judea and Samaria numbered 246,100 as of December 31 2005, and had an annual growth rate of 5.1% from 2004 to 2005. Total voters for 17th Knesset totaled 152,315 in 573 polling stations including 2 hospitals.

The evicted Gush Katif voters accounted for an additional 3,569 votes for a total of 155,884 voters.

Accounting for changes in demographics, the number of voters for a council election in 2006 or 2007 would be expected to be about 160,000.

5. Proposed Electoral Solutions

Elections generally have multiple goals including:

  • ensure the widest possible representation
  • accountability to the electorate
  • majority rule
  • address local or national issues

Elections for a Judea and Samaria representative council would be the first time trans-regional elections were held in Israel, which has only legislation for the Knesset, local and regional councils.

Such a change does not represent that radical a change, but rather the expansion of the concept of a regional council to encompass an area of several regional councils. The council would then have a true mandate to lobby on behalf of the councils within its jurisdiction.

The electoral system used is obviously a critical decision in the pre-election process. It would have to be a system the electorate would understand and accept. The two main electoral systems known as Plurality-Majority (PM) and Proportional Representation (PR) are both present in Israel.

While the Knesset is currently a PR system, local and regional councils use a hybrid system with a direct PM vote for the mayor and a second PR ballot for a party list. a. Direct Election Method

The residents are already familiar with the direct election system of choosing local and regional mayors. Voters know that they have a specific to turn to, and mayors know that their performance in their job is directly connected to their chances of being re-elected. In current local elections, candidates may themselves belong to a specific party and espouse that party line, but they are not necessarily beholden to the party’s national platform. Many independent candidates are elected.

What is unclear with the direct method is whether or not a majority of candidates would be independents or represent specific parties. Until a stable council has experience in carrying out its tasks, the platforms of independent candidates would compete against those of parties. As in other democracies, it would be up to the electorate to make the choice. Drawing of Electoral Boundaries

Any single-member district system requires the time-consuming process of drawing boundaries for relatively small constituencies. The way in which they are demarcated will depend on issues such as population size, cohesiveness, ‘community of interest’ and contiguity. Furthermore, this is rarely a one-off task, as boundaries have to be adjusted regularly to take population changes into account. Multi-member districts would be fewer in number and larger and thus less time consuming to initially demarcate and then maintain.

b. Proportional Election Method

The proportional representation system is used in the Knesset and is familiar to the voters. Several national parties (for example Likud, National Union, Yisrael Beitenu) maintain platforms that relate directly to the residents and would be natural candidates to field lists of candidates. Additional local parties might emerge to compete with the existing parties.

As with the Knesset elections, there is a negative side. Proportional elections mean that no one specific candidate is accountable to a specific electorate. Parties in the council may be beholden to other concerns rather than those of their electorate if the national party exercises its authority in enforcing different policies over the local branches.

c. Hybrid Direct and Proportional Election Method

The new council could use the hybrid method as is currently used in local elections, whereby a leader would be elected directly and the council elected from party lists. Leadership candidates would have to put together party lists. The possibility exists that a leader would be elected who would have to work with a mandate to govern.

6. Council Format

The reformed council would need a specific leader, either directly elected or elected from among the successful candidates. A small executive committee or cabinet would also be needed.

7. Election Costs

Two election systems are already in place in Judea and Samaria: national and local. Both have experienced mechanisms for carrying them out efficiently and fairly. The cost of an election for a regional council encompassing Judea and Samaria would be on the same order of magnitude for running simultaneous local elections in all the communities. There would be certain savings due to the economics of scale.

Israel has a well honed census bureau that keeps accurate population statistics, and a central voter registry that is constantly updated – two of the central prerequisites for any electoral system. The concept of elections is well entrenched in Israeli society and the mechanisms (excepting district boundary allocation) are all in place, so that costs for a council election system would be minimized as opposed to starting from scratch.

Additional research is required before an accurate estimate of the cost can be presented. A fair estimate can be arrived at by taking the costs of elections in small (<1000 residents), medium (1000 to 500 residents) and large (>5000 residents) communities and then applying those costs to similarly sized communities.

8. Other One-Time and Ongoing Costs

The election of a representative council presents additional costs divided into the initial capital expenditures for establishing the council and the ongoing costs of maintaining the council.

Initial Costs

These include the acquisition and outfitting of a council chamber and offices. The existing Yesha council assets would be utilized to offset the cost.

Ongoing Costs

A local government requires various services and functions associated with a government that the present council does not have: public budget department, auditing department, and records department. As a public body, for example, records and minutes of meetings have to be maintained in the public domain.

It would have to be determined if each council member would receive funding for a constituency office, and what their salary and operating budgets would be, if any.

9. Conclusions

The last great test of to the Yesha council of the demise of Gush Katif demonstrated how far the council is removed from the people it is supposed to represent. In order to have any legitimacy, the council needs to be popularly elected. The residents of Judea and Samaria have to have a direct say as to what the council’s mandate is.

The council currently has no official government standing. It is not even a quasi-government body, but acts like it because some its members are elected from some of the larger or more vocal constituencies in Judea and Samaria.

An elected council will define what the council is, and election campaigns coupled with accountability to the electorate will determine its mandate.

The end result will be a council that is much more representative, democratic and effective.

Appendix A – Summary of Local Elections in Israel Source: Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Israel Local Elections

The local authorities are headed by councils whose members are elected every five years on the basis of the proportional representation of their political parties. The number of seats in the councils is determined by the size of their population; between 9 and 31 seats for municipalities and between 5 and 21 for local councils. Mayors (including the chairpersons of local and regional councils) are elected directly by the voters. In many cases no single party controls the majority of seats on the councils and the mayor has to form a coalition to achieve a working majority. Agreements are made among the parties for this purpose, involving the distribution of powers and functions among the coalition partners.

When elections for the Knesset and the local authorities have been held at the same time, voter turnout in the local elections was between 73 and 83 percent, while in the case of separate election dates, turnout has averaged around 60 percent. Voter turnout for local elections in the Arab sector has traditionally been much higher than that in the Jewish sector. According to the local election financing law, each party list in the local authority is entitled to receive financing based on the number of council seats it wins. The State Comptroller’s positive report on the financial management of the election campaign for each faction represented on the council entitles the faction to receive its allocation as determined by the formula.

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David Bedein is an MSW community organizer and an investigative journalist.   In 1987, Bedein established the Israel Resource News Agency at Beit Agron to accompany foreign journalists in their coverage of Israel, to balance the media lobbies established by the PLO and their allies.   Mr. Bedein has reported for news outlets such as CNN Radio, Makor Rishon, Philadelphia Inquirer, Los Angeles Times, BBC and The Jerusalem Post, For four years, Mr. Bedein acted as the Middle East correspondent for The Philadelphia Bulletin, writing 1,062 articles until the newspaper ceased operation in 2010. Bedein has covered breaking Middle East negotiations in Oslo, Ottawa, Shepherdstown, The Wye Plantation, Annapolis, Geneva, Nicosia, Washington, D.C., London, Bonn, and Vienna. Bedein has overseen investigative studies of the Palestinian Authority, the Expulsion Process from Gush Katif and Samaria, The Peres Center for Peace, Peace Now, The International Center for Economic Cooperation of Yossi Beilin, the ISM, Adalah, and the New Israel Fund.   Since 2005, Bedein has also served as Director of the Center for Near East Policy Research.   A focus of the center's investigations is The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). In that context, Bedein authored Roadblock to Peace: How the UN Perpetuates the Arab-Israeli Conflict - UNRWA Policies Reconsidered, which caps Bedein's 28 years of investigations of UNRWA. The Center for Near East Policy Research has been instrumental in reaching elected officials, decision makers and journalists, commissioning studies, reports, news stories and films. In 2009, the center began decided to produce short movies, in addition to monographs, to film every aspect of UNRWA education in a clear and cogent fashion.   The center has so far produced seven short documentary pieces n UNRWA which have received international acclaim and recognition, showing how which UNRWA promotes anti-Semitism and incitement to violence in their education'   In sum, Bedein has pioneered The UNRWA Reform Initiative, a strategy which calls for donor nations to insist on reasonable reforms of UNRWA. Bedein and his team of experts provide timely briefings to members to legislative bodies world wide, bringing the results of his investigations to donor nations, while demanding reforms based on transparency, refugee resettlement and the demand that terrorists be removed from the UNRWA schools and UNRWA payroll.   Bedein's work can be found at: www.IsraelBehindTheNews.com and www.cfnepr.com. A new site,unrwa-monitor.com, will be launched very soon.