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Opposition MKs on the Knesset Economic Affairs Committee did everything in their power to thwart approval of the government's bill to reform the Israel Lands Administration on Sunday. But despite their best efforts, the bulk of the program's clauses were approved for inclusion in the Economics Arrangements Bill that the full Knesset is to vote on later this week.
The committee was still voting on the clauses, one by one, at press time.
Over hours of argument and debate, intermingled with bouts of shouting and jest that carried on until late at night, opposition lawmakers tried to stymie the bill that aims to restructure the ILA and at the same time replace the situation in which individuals lease ILA land for 49 years with one where they can own the property in perpetuity.
The drama started when first thing in the morning, committee members found a new version of the bill on the table, featuring both clauses that were added over the weekend and some whose wording was altered. Lawmakers who oppose the plan expressed anger that they didn't have time to study the new clauses and weren't given the opportunity to debate them within their factions.
"Never has such an extensive law been passed in such a rushed and slipshod manner," Labor MK Shelly Yachimovich said.
"It's a circus," said Kadima MK Nachman Shai. "Most of the representatives don't even now what they're voting for. We were told that there would be a serious debate, but coalition members are raising their hands automatically, without even debating the points of our objections."
Opposition MKs and Yachimovich, who though she belongs to the coalition has surfaced as a staunch opponent of the reform, attempted to filibuster the committee, raising objections to every single clause starting from the wording of the bill's title. As the day wore on it became apparent that voting was split along strict party lines, with the seven coalition MKs out voting the five opposition legislators time after time.
Those who oppose the land reform represent a variety of interests and objectives. MKs from parties as ideologically opposed as Habayit Hayehudi and United Arab List-Ta'al found themselves voting identically, though for very different reasons.
"The partnership between us exists only insofar as we all understand the ideological, political and historical significance of this plan, while the government is trying to wrap everything up under the premise of economic efficiency and reducing bureaucracy," said MK Haneen Zoabi from Balad.
Another point of contention was the meaning of the passage from the book of Leviticus that says, "And the land shall not be sold in perpetuity; for the land is mine: for ye are strangers and sojourners with me. (23:25)."
The sides each have rabbis who interpret the passage differently. Those against the reform cite Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi Yona Metzger, who said it is a clear prohibition against selling Israeli land, while those who back it refer to the edict of Shas Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, who said that since the tradition of Jubilee is no longer practiced, the passage had no bearing on the situation.
In the early afternoon, after a visit from Construction and Housing Minister Ariel Attias of Shas, coalition representatives in the committee expressed confidence that as a result of a series of compromises, there was strong likelihood that the bill would be passed in committee and placed on the Knesset floor by 11 a.m Monday morning.
A source close to the negotiations behind the scenes said that a compromise was likely on two troublesome clauses - that some of the land turned over to the ILA would be dedicated to affordable housing for young couples, and that the proportion of state-held lands turned over for development would not exceed 3-5 percent. The opposition had insisted that no more than 1% be turned over, while the original text of the reform bill had left the amount entirely open.
In the afternoon, it had seemed that a behind the scene agreement had been reached regarding agricultural land upon which farmers had built their homes. Despite the initial support of Agriculture Minister Shalom Simhon for the proposed compromise, sources close to the negotiation said that internal Labor Party politics had derailed the deal, with high-level party officials putting the kibosh on it at the last minute.
Labor ultimately decided to refer the internal division to its regularly-scheduled faction meeting on Monday, delaying the party's decision on how to vote on the problematic clause.
In the committee, it was decided to parcel off those deliberations that dealt with the agricultural sector for another time and to push ahead to pass the rest of the clauses.
As the day wore on, it became clear that nothing would stop the deliberations and the lawmakers prepared for a long night.
Likud MK Ophir Akunis blamed the opposition members for the delays. "Up until now we have only been dealing with issues that on the surface are the least problematic ones, the ones that deal with the administrative side of the reform, issues they [the opponents of the reform] said they agree to. It is clear that all the objections have been politically, not ideologically, motivated."
As the night wore on and the speakers lost their zeal, the proceedings moved along more rapidly. Late last night, the committee was debating article 13 out of 34.
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