Not with a whimper: Knesset ends dramatic winter session

Analysis: The opposition protested, but the coalition displayed tenacity in passing legislation, with Israel Beiteinu setting the tone.

By REBECCA ANNA STOIL
April 1, 2011 03:20
3 minute read.
The Knesset adjourning for its spring break.

Knesset session 311. (photo credit: Courtesy)

 
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The Knesset’s long winter session will end officially on Sunday, and after a dramatic five-month run, it seems almost fitting that it close with a scandal rather than a quiet exit to a long-awaited recess.

MKs, who in private conversations had said only hours earlier that they were eagerly looking forward to the almost seven-week break, were Thursday calling for emergency sessions to discuss a controversial last-minute vote in the State Control Committee.

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There was no shortage of scandals, intrigue and... well, politics during the session, the first half of which was largely devoted to the government’s successful attempt to pass the biennial budget and the Economic Arrangements Law by the end of 2010.

For the most part, the opposition yelled and kicked, but the coalition displayed a steam roller-like tenacity in passing legislation.

Even veteran MKs who have spent years in opposition began expressing frustration by mid-session with their inability to mount any viable resistance to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s control over committee voting.

In one committee debate on the Citizenship Law, half of the opposition MKs stormed out prior to the vote, in protest of what they complained was unfair treatment.

The other half left after losing the vote, and confronted their fellow opposition members in the hallway, loudly berating them over how best to act when they know they have no chance.



The helplessness of opposition MKs was coupled with – and largely stemmed from – the general tenor of the session, which was dominated by Israel Beiteinu. The second- largest party in the coalition may not hold the record for the most private members’ bills passed during the session, but the agenda dictated by the right-wing party largely dominated the debate, particularly following passage of the budget.

The initiatives that Israel Beiteinu failed to pass were almost as influential as the 14 laws that did. The party’s push, together with MK Danny Danon (Likud), to establish parliamentary committees of inquiry into the activities and funding of left-wing organizations proved to be a failure for its sponsors, put on hold at the last minute due to a sudden erosion of support within the coalition.

Nevertheless, the headlines generated by the months-long debate over the committees went far to polish the party’s right-wing image.

Among the parliamentary successes that passed in the final days of the session were the Nakba Law and the Citizenship Law, which led MK David Rotem (Israel Beiteinu) to announce from the speaker’s podium that the party had fulfilled its electoral goal of “no loyalty, no citizenship.”

Rotem, co-sponsor of the successful Citizenship Law and a law to allow small Negev and Galilee communities to restrict who can move in (he’s also chairman of the powerful Law and Constitution Committee), is Israel Beiteinu’s power legislator.

But even he could not steamroll his way through the morass of religious reform.

Both the party’s Conversion Bill and the more-limited IDF Conversion Bill remained frozen at the end of the Knesset session.

In addition to the headline-grabbing legislative work by Israel Beiteinu, the Knesset worked, largely quietly, on a number of heavy and highly-technical bills that sought to reform major sectors of Israeli society. One of those bills, the Civil Aviation Law, passed on the last day of plenum voting, while another two – the government’s Building and Planning Reform Bill, and legislation by MK Zvulun Orlev (Habayit Hayehudi) aimed at reforms in early childhood care licensing – remained in the works even into the recess.

Despite a rancorous session characterized by fierce skirmishing between coalition and opposition, two key bills unified the Knesset nearly wall-to-wall. The Sheshinski Law, which restructures taxation of Israel’s natural gas and oil resources, passed the house on Wednesday by a vote of 74-2, with only one faction in opposition, while the Mine Clearance Law, which establishes an authority to clear non-necessary minefields, sailed through the house unopposed by any faction.

Such rare shows of consensus are likely to become even more unusual in the Summer Session, as the Knesset inevitably draws closer and closer to the opening of the election season. But even before the first call to order on May 18, parliamentarians are likely to be anything but silent – and with unfinished business in the State Control Committee, the Knesset will continue to make headlines well into the Passover Recess.

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