Opposition parties on Sunday said they planned to boycott votes and debates on major legislation set to be finalized this week: electoral reform, haredi conscription and reinforcing the Referendum Law.
Also on Sunday, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu (Likud) and Finance Minister Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid) signed a document committing their factions to vote in favor of the bills. Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman (Yisrael Beytenu) and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni (Hatnua) planned to sign that night, while Economy Minister Naftali Bennett (Bayit Yehudi) said he still needed to consult with his faction.
In a meeting of all opposition party and faction leaders Sunday afternoon, MKs decided to protest “anti-democratic decisions,” such as a regulation allowing the Knesset House Committee to set time limits for legislative debates in special cases. Each of the upcoming bills is scheduled for one day of discussion, as opposed to the opposition’s demand for three days each.
The opposition parties plan to hold their own debates at the same time the discussions are scheduled to take place in the plenum.
“Even though we are not a homogeneous opposition, we are all united in the battle to preserve democracy,” the party leaders said in a statement released following their meeting.
“This coalition is weak and hysterical and no member trusts another. They’re trying to pass important bills through political brutality.”
“The opposition is childish,” Deputy Minister for Liaison to the Knesset Ophir Akunis (Likud) said.
“Whining is not a form of leadership. The opposition does not offer any serious alternative. If they don’t respect the Knesset, then they do not have self-respect,” he said.
“We will not surrender to extortion. The votes will take place as planned,” he added.
The coalition intends to keep to the schedule set by the House Committee last week: Electoral reform debates will begin at 11 a.m. Monday, and voting will begin at 10 a.m. Tuesday.
Discussion of the haredi conscription bill will begin immediately afterward, and voting will begin at 10 a.m.
Wednesday. Following the speech to the plenum by UK Prime Minister David Cameron on Wednesday afternoon, the Knesset will debate the referendum bill until 2 a.m.
Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein worked to negotiate a compromise between the two sides, offering to add another day of plenum meetings and to start the debates at whichever time the opposition chooses. As of press time, however, no changes had been made.
The coalition parties’ unusual move to sign a commitment document followed sharp disagreements among them about the three bills on the Knesset’s docket. In fact, they are to be addressed one after the other this week for that very reason – so that no party has time to change its mind and not support them.
Each bill is associated with a different segment of the coalition.
The haredi conscription bill is a Yesh Atid platform, with strong opposition from parts of Bayit Yehudi and less-vocal opposition from certain Likud MKs, as it includes criminal sanctions against those who refuse to enlist in the IDF.
Electoral reform is supported by Yisrael Beytenu and Yesh Atid. Some segments of Bayit Yehudi are against it, especially the part raising the electoral threshold to 3.25 percent, meaning parties winning fewer than four seats won’t make it into the Knesset.
Bayit Yehudi MK Orit Struck was the only coalition lawmaker to join opposition MKs in filing objections to the electoral reform bill. However, the document signed by coalition party leaders says coalition MKs must withdraw any objections by Monday afternoon.
The referendum bill is an effort by Likud Beytenu and Bayit Yehudi to anchor in a Basic Law the existing law requiring a referendum on concessions of sovereign land. Hatnua and Yesh Atid do not support this, positing that it is another obstacle in the way of a peace agreement with the Palestinians. The bill would not apply to Judea and Samaria, but would apply to the Golan Heights, eastern Jerusalem or any other part of sovereign Israel.
All of the bills were somewhat softened to allow for compromises within the coalition, but the document circulated among coalition party leaders indicated that this was not enough and that senior MKs were taking extra precautions to ensure they passed.
The opposition relished the coalition’s apparent disarray, with Meretz leader Zehava Gal-On saying coalition MKs were “breaking the rules of democracy” and “not only treating the opposition recklessly, but doing the same within the coalition, forcing MKs to vote for bills they oppose through undemocratic tricks and a tyranny of the majority, turning them into hostages and robots.”
Opposition parties submitted hundreds of objections to articles in the three bills, ranging from keeping the threshold as-is to correcting grammatical errors.