As of November 22, 2016, Benjamin Netanyahu will have occupied the Prime Minister’s Office for 2,793 days in a row, thereby surpassing David Ben-Gurion for the longest continuous tenure as premier in Israeli history.
As of Nov. 22, 2016, Benjamin Netanyahu will have occupied the Prime Minister’s Office for 2,793 days in a row, thereby surpassing David Ben-Gurion for the longest continuous tenure as premier in Israeli history. Note that Ben-Gurion’s cumulative service still exceeds Netanyahu’s, who will not overtake him in that respect until July 2019.
While Netanyahu’s incumbency is relatively lengthy, he actually lags behind German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has been in office since 2005, Prime Minister John Key of New Zealand (2008), and President Barack Obama of the United States, who has been in office since 2009, among currently serving leaders.
Historically, Netanyahu ranks 62nd on the list of democratic leaders who have held office since 1945. If he remains Prime Minister until the end of the 20th Knesset's scheduled term in November 2019, he will jump to 21st place.
Continuous Service of Heads of Government in 32 Western Democracies*
|Rank||Name||Country||Years in Office||Days in Office
(as of Nov. 22, 2016)
|46||John Key||New Zealand||2008–||2925|
|55||Barak Obama**||United States||2009–||2863|
*Since 1945, or from the year in which a country adopted a democratic form of government, the 32 developed democracies on the list (the majority of which have a parliamentary system) are: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, India, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom and the United States.
Some maintain that in view of Netanyahu’s long incumbency, Israel should follow the American example and enact term limits, drafting legislation for a two term limit for the prime minister. But while that approach may be appropriate for local authorities or in a presidential system (where the president is chosen in direct elections and does not require a parliamentary vote of investiture), it is not a relevant option for parliamentary democracies such as Israel.
After all, a parliamentary system has sufficient safety valves in place to prevent the head of the executive branch from accumulating so much power as to endanger democracy. In Israel, a prime minister can lose a no-confidence vote in the Knesset; lose the support of his/her ministers, who may urge him/her to resign (as was the case with Ehud Olmert in 2008), or be deposed by members of his/her own party.
Given these mechanisms, we need to view this political situation in Israel with a long-term perspective, without fixating on specific circumstances and leaders.
If anything, the conventional wisdom is that Israel suffers from a lack of stability and continuity, which impedes on good governance. It is important to remember that since 1988 every general election has been held ahead of schedule, and with regard to Israel's current government, which has been in office less than two years, over a third of the ministerial portfolios have already changed hands.
Moreover, when examining statistics related to the premiership, since the early 1990s, the turnover rate of prime ministers (Rabin, Peres, Netanyahu, Barak, Sharon, Olmert, and Netanyahu again) has been among the highest of any Western democracy.
Finally, without relating to Netanyahu specifically, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with a long tenure in the Prime Minister’s office. Certainly, it would be a mistake to conclude that there is a need for structural changes such as term limits without first considering Israel's short, volatile political history and looking at the experiences of other liberal democracies that share representative systems similar to ours.