Understanding Israeli elections

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Why is Israel having an election two years early?

Because it is a democracy.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lost the confidence of the Knesset, and under Israel's parliamentary way of governing, that means new elections.

All that happened because of dissatisfaction over how Netanyahu has been handling the peace process. Some Knesset members feel he has been dragging his feet on negotiations. Others feel he has been willing to give away too much land.

But the prime minister also is in trouble for domestic affairs. The country's budget can't get approved. Inflation is rising. The unions are constantly striking over wages.

May 17, the public will have its say. Netanyahu, who like our own president is a superb campaigner, may yet convince enough voters to put him back in office. But he faces a slew of challengers who will do their best to split the vote and deny Netanyahu the prime minister's job again.

Whatever the outcome, at least Israelis can vote on who will run their government — and the future course the nation should take.

When was the last time Egyptians, Jordanians, Saudis, Lebanese or Syrians voted for their president of prime minister? Can't remember? That's because they never have.

And what about the Palestinians who live only minutes from Israel's capital? They never voted for Arafat to be their leader, either.

So while the world criticizes Israel, and while the president of the United States tries to blame Netanyahu for the stalled peace efforts, let us remember that Israel's prime minister is the only Mideast leader who is accountable to voters.

The people who live in Israel must decide how much, if any land, should be given to the Palestinians. The risk they take is theirs and no one else's.

And the upcoming election offers Israelis the opportunity to decide how much of a risk they want their leader to take.

That's how a democracy should work.