The coalition cannot last long with only 61 members, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein warned Monday, in a briefing with Knesset reporters.
“I think that after we pass the budget [in November] we will see changes in the coalition’s makeup,” he said, but was unwilling to speculate as to who would join. “I don’t think we’re expected to go to an election, because I don’t think the opposition or coalition want it.”
Edelstein said he expects the budget to be “problematic” because too many promises were made in coalition talks and not all of them can realistically be fulfilled.
“This isn’t the first time in history that a 61-seat coalition passed a budget, but I’m not sure it will be an ideal one,” he remarked.
Still, the Knesset Speaker called for the opposition and coalition to work together on issues on which they can agree so they can serve the public.
Even on the government’s highly contentious natural gas deal, Edelstein said the coalition and opposition can find common ground.
“I don’t think anyone thinks the best scenario is for the gas to remain where it was found.
We can argue about half a percent more or less taxes, but it cannot be that the Knesset doesn’t reach a conclusion on this point,” he stated.
Edelstein called for the gas plan to be debated in the Knesset, as it has been in meetings called after the government publicized the outline two weeks ago.
The Knesset Speaker blamed the government’s reticence to deal with the Knesset unless it is absolutely necessary on its narrow majority in the legislature.
“I promise that if we had a stable and serious coalition it would not be afraid to bring such things to the Knesset.
When there is an argument every night about who was in the bathroom or not [during a vote], this is what it looks like. They try to avoid bringing anything to the Knesset that doesn’t have to be here according to law,” he explained.
The narrow coalition also impacts the Knesset’s ability to conduct inter-parliamentary diplomacy since the lawmakers cannot go abroad to participate in meetings of parliamentary assemblies because any absent MK could lead the coalition to lose its majority.
“The MKs don’t go abroad to have fun. They take a plane in the middle of the night for two days of work and then fly back at night. This is important.
And, then, when we miss an important vote on something like [proposals to ban] circumcision, people ask why we weren’t there,” Edelstein said.
He called for MKs on both sides to respect “offsetting,” the practice whereby a lawmaker in the opposition intentionally misses a vote to cancel out the absence of a coalition member, or vice-versa, in order to allow the Knesset to engage in diplomacy again.
The speaker added that he expects the coalition and opposition to come together to recognize the Armenian genocide, which he hopes to have the Knesset do officially soon.
He denied that the Knesset recognition Armenian has anything to do with flexing muscles at Turkey, the perpetrators of the genocide and the main reason the government has not yet recognized it. The move is not coordinated with the government, Edelstein added, citing separation of powers.
“The Armenians are not our greatest friends. They never vote with us in the UN. I don’t expect anything in return; this is not a political decision,” he explained.
The Knesset Speaker also addressed the scandals surrounding MK Oren Hazan (Likud) who, according to reports in the press, engaged in pimping and drug dealing while managing a casino in Bulgaria and sexually harassed employees of a bar he owned in Tel Aviv.
After the reports were published, Edelstein refused to give Hazan shifts as deputy Knesset speaker and, on Monday, he explained that “the public atmosphere has to change” for him to allow the MK to run plenum meetings.
“[Hazan] said he would sue the people who said these things about him and I thought that would make things clearer. I also advised him to take a polygraph test.
I’m not an investigator or a judge... but there are things and photographs that weren’t denied and sentences said such as ‘every Israeli man does it, it’s not a big deal.’ Those are things that would not allow me to put him at the head of the plenum,” Edelstein pointed out.
“I have enough problems in the plenum without that,” he said, expressing concern that some female MKs might walk out in protest if Hazan was at the helm.
As for Hazan calling Edelstein’s senior adviser and threatening to publicize incriminating or embarrassing information about the Speaker unless he lifts the MK’s punishment, Edelstein said: “People write all kinds of nasty things on my Facebook page. I don’t go to the police every time someone insults me.
“I expect an apology; it still hasn’t come. Maybe that would change my stance, but it hasn’t happened,” he stated.
Edelstein confirmed that a senior Bulgarian official contacted the Knesset and asked that Hazan not be part of the Israel-Bulgaria friendship group.