Bureaucratic changes to the government protocol governing cabinet meetings and votes approved on Sunday have nothing to do with “fateful decisions” being discussed in the media, cabinet secretary Zvi Hauser said on Sunday.
With that comment Hauser tried to deflate speculation that the new protocol, a 51- page document that has been some three years in the making, was designed to expand Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s executive power on the eve of a possible attack on Iran.
“There is nothing in the changes that is relevant to questions on fateful decisions,” Hauser said in a rare telephone briefing with reporters following Sunday’s weekly cabinet meeting. “I want to remove that cloud. There are no changes to [the processes involved in] those types of decisions.”
Rather, he said, the new regulations will merely formalize processes that have emerged over the years but were never properly defined.
The regulation governing how cabinet meetings are carried out, and votes taken, dates back to 1948, although changes have been introduced in a piecemeal fashion since then. Hauser said most of the changes were very slight reformulations, although some were more substantive. All were sanctioned by the attorney- general.
Among the changes introduced are the following:
• The prime minister will now have the prerogative to set the order of cabinet votes.
• The prime minister can, if he so decides, determine that for a particular vote only ministers present in the debate can vote, unless an absent minister designated beforehand a deputy to represent him. This is in lieu of today’s practice where ministers abroad can leave an absentee ballot.
• A telephone vote must be completed within 12 hours – although the prime minister can shorten this period – and any resolution voted on in this manner must have the approval of an absolute majority of the ministers.
• The prime minister will have the prerogative to instruct the chairman of any of the various ministerial committees to postpone or cancel a meeting on a certain matter, or not to decide on a particular issue, because of reasons that “will be made known to the chairman of the committee.”
There are currently some 40 ministerial committees, dealing with everything from burial to the status of women, and development of the Negev and Galilee.
• The prime minister can choose to participate in ministerial committee meetings, and when he does so he will be considered a member of the committee, unless decided otherwise.
• The prime minister has the prerogative to set the agenda and call meetings of the security cabinet.
The new protocol immediately drew fire from opposition leaders.
“The current move further destabilizes the prime minister’s decision-making process,” opposition leader and Kadima chairman Shaul Mofaz said. “We have crucial decisions ahead of us, and dealing with procedure to weaken opposing voices only increases the fear that decisions are being made with a lack of judgment.”
According to Mofaz, Netanyahu is “attempting to hide behind regulations,” and will not succeed.
“This is a move to avoid opinions opposing those of the prime minister – in other words, the defense establishment of the past and present,” Mofaz, a former defense minister and IDF chief of staff, said.
A high-ranking Likud source scoffed at Mofaz and others for speculating that Iran was the reason for the new regulations.
“This is not as big a deal as people are making of it,” the source said, pointing out that ministers were notified of the vote on Wednesday, and the details were posted on the government website for the public to see on Thursday.
Labor Party chairwoman Shelly Yechimovich on Sunday lambasted the proposed changes, calling them an unprecedented, dangerous step that concentrated government power in the hands of one person.
“The fateful decisions on policy, defense and socioeconomic matters are bound to be obligatorily accepted without meaningful discussion,” Yechimovich said.
“We are talking about centralizing moves that endanger the democratic nature of the State of Israel.”