THE KNESSET building..
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
The Knesset’s summer session, beginning Monday, was likely to be interesting even before the latest coalition shake-ups.
Now, however, summer in the Knesset is looking to be hotter than expected, even though the session may get off to a slow start thanks to The Jerusalem Post Annual Conference in New York, which features five members of the coalition among its speakers.
The absence of the conference attendees, plus departing defense minister Moshe Ya’alon, means that even with a five-seat boost from Yisrael Beytenu, the coalition will have only 60 members in attendance. Still, the opposition only has 54 members (one of whom took part in the conference), so no dramatic losses are expected for the coalition.
This week will feature the procedural aftermath of the political deals: Voting Yisrael Beytenu ministers into the government; MK Orly Levy-Abecassis (Yisrael Beytenu) officially leaving her party; and Yehuda Glick’s swearing-in as a new Likud MK in Ya’alon’s stead.
Then, the real work will begin: Passing bills and working on the budget.
Some of the coalition’s most controversial proposals will have an easier time passing now that the coalition has been expanded to 66 seats.
On Wednesday, the Knesset Law, Constitution and Justice Committee will discuss the NGO transparency bill. The legislation would require all organizations that are mostly funded by a foreign political entity to identify themselves as such in all publications and advertisements. The proposal’s opponents point out that almost all the NGOs falling under its purview are left-wing.
Yisrael Beytenu always supported the NGO bill and its ilk, but as long as the party was in the opposition, it wasn’t committed to voting for it and party leader Avigdor Liberman could come up with an excuse why not to do so. Now, Liberman could tout the bill as his party’s victory, too.
Another bill that will likely be accelerated thanks to Yisrael Beytenu is the bill to suspend MKs who support terrorism, among other reasons. A three-fourths majority (90 MKs) would be needed for the final vote to suspend any MK, and though Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pushed the initiative forward because of three Joint List MKs standing in a moment of silence for terrorists, it cannot be used retroactively.
Yisrael Beytenu’s coalition agreement is expected to include a bill making it easier to give terrorists the death penalty. The details of the new version of the bill remain to be seen.
Technically, the death penalty exists in Israeli law books, but it is not used. When Yisrael Beytenu last brought a death penalty bill to a vote, the party was in the opposition and the legislation was voted down 97-6.
The Knesset’s summer session is also likely to be focused on the upcoming budget.
Netanyahu insisted on a twoyear budget, which is likely to keep his coalition afloat until 2019, but he may have had a hard time passing it with his narrow coalition, since at least one MK – Likud’s Oren Hazan – said he would not support the format.
With Yisrael Beytenu on board, Hazan’s rebellions will no longer be significant for the coalition and it should be smooth sailing for a two-year budget.
The budget will likely include a boost in pensions for immigrants from the former Soviet Union, thanks to Yisrael Beytenu’s coalition negotiations. One of Liberman’s terms for entering the government is that Israel make up for pensions that immigrants from the FSU earned but are not paid to them by the Russian government because they left the country.
The defense budget will be a difficult point, because an aide package from the US has yet to be worked out, and Netanyahu is hoping to negotiate more funding.
In most years, the Finance Ministry prepares a budget to go to a first reading at the end of the summer session, in August. This year, Finance Committee chairman Moshe Gafni is pushing for the budget to be brought to a first reading earlier, so his committee can begin working on it during the summer session.
This means that the tense budget- related politics could start early this year, and the three-month summer session will be a busy time in the Knesset.