Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin 311.
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Paradoxically, good news tends to be underreported.
This was the case
last week with a basic overhaul approved by the Ministerial Committee on
Legislation, which agreed to forge ahead with measures to split and drastically
trim the highly problematic Arrangements Bill.
Previous attempts to
reduce this benighted legislation's ever-mounting scope had floundered in the
early stages and never seriously got off the ground. This time things are
different, due mostly to tireless efforts by Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin, who
has long vociferously objected to the Arrangements Bill.
Rivlin has managed to orchestrate a parliamentary rebellion by uniting all
Knesset committee chairmen behind his initiative. Together they served notice
that the bill will never again pass in its current form. This, in turn, obliged
the government to consent to radical changes.
The bill has been with us
since 1985, when Israel faced an imminent economic collapse. The economy’s
recovery, under the aegis of the national unity government, must be counted as
one of the most stunning reversals of bad fortune in the country’s history. But
what is often described as a near-miracle also bequeathed to us the socalled
Arrangements Bill – a troublesome legacy that for a quarter of a century has
been plaguing both our economy and our political arena.
It was born out
of the emergency and was concocted to help the government pass in a hurry a
series of ad hoc arrangements vital to stabilize the teetering
But no government since has been able to restrain the burgeoning
beast. In fact, many governments grew to love it and depended on it for
coalition deals and disguised political payoffs.
The bill consists of a
frequently bizarre assortment of items of legislation and financial allotments
that are passed as one package and as part and parcel of the state
Failure to adopt a new budget means the government’s automatic
fall and hence has afforded coalition components down the years matchless
extortion opportunities, pursued by demanding funding for pet causes via the
Arrangements Bill. It has also afforded the Treasury unique opportunities to
pass reforms without resorting to ordinary legislative procedures.
bill was generally passed without MKs being able to thoroughly read its entirety
and grapple with its manifold intricacies. Thus its various components were
inflicted with minimal legislative scrutiny. In essence this was
contra-democratic because it made it so effortless to detour around legal
ACCORDING TO the now agreed-upon amendment, the Arrangements
Bill will be cut by at least 40 percent.
Nineteen of its central
components will now have to be referred to the normal legislative course and
four others will be separated from the bill right after the first
Among the new exclusions is the Wisconsin Plan welfare- to-work
initiative (which the Treasury had planned to revive by means of the
Arrangements Bill). Also out are laws dealing with the regulation of financial
markets, local authority inspection and enforcement powers, public transport
licensing, Internet service providers, Israel Broadcast Authority funding, fines
levied on National Health Insurances swindlers, and much more. In all, 28 of the
67 arrangements included in the bill will be affected.
Over the years the
Knesset has come to wield less and less clout vis-à-vis the government. Time and
again the Knesset proved helpless as coalition kickbacks, taxes and numerous
edicts were introduced through the Arrangements Bill’s back door without even
minimal parliamentary control and or meaningful public debate.
aberrations will from here on no longer be as easy as they had been for the past
25 years, when the bill was treated as an almost unavoidable but useful
Rivlin, who had proved himself on a long list of issues to be a
uniquely independent and ethical speaker, deserves our unstinting gratitude.
While average Israelis may not yet realize the benefits of truncating the
Arrangements Bill, these are sure to impact on our daily lives.
remains to be done to rid us of this bad bill altogether, but this first step is
an unprecedented giant move forward for our quality of government. This is a
sterling achievement for Israel’s democracy and nothing less than a defining
moment in the relationship between our legislative and executive branches.