(photo credit: )
Knesset members struggled to answer the four-billion shekel question Wednesday: How did the coalition go to shambles on the final day before the summer recess?
More than 50 bills were brought to vote in the plenum Wednesday, leading Knesset members to work late into the night to pass the legislation before embarking on its three-month recess. Most of the bills were predicted to pass in the coalition's favor until a rogue opposition bill, which would cost the government NIS 4 billion suddenly passed, catching the government unprepared and dealing it a strategic blow from which it did not recover.
Law slaps huge fines for smoking in public
Coalition MKs were apparently confused by a number of amendments in the bill, which would bolster National Insurance for the elderly, and found themselves mistakenly voting for the expensive legislation against the government's policy.
"That is what happens when you have no coalition chairman," said an aide to MK Avigdor Yitzhaki, who resigned from the position several months ago due to tensions with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
"The prime minister is too busy playing political games to find a replacement for this vital position, so his coalition fell apart on what should have been a day of victory." The coalition, which currently stands at 78 MKs, should have easily dominated the 120-member plenum. Yet the winning streak begun by the opposition persisted throughout the day, with coalition MKs missing important votes, or surprisingly abstaining because they were unsure how to vote.
"The opposition is creating the real legislation for this country," declared Likud Faction Whip MK Gidon Sa'ar, who was in his element Wednesday, speaking on nearly every bill that came to vote and rallying the opposition to pass two of his own bills to ensure that women who take maternity leave are not penalized by their employers.
Another Likud victory was a final reading of a law by MK Gilad Erdan that will immediately ban smoking in all public places."Olmert may have succeeded in adding members to his coalition, but there is no unity among their ranks," said Sa'ar.
He added that the governments are most often toppled in the fall, when the Knesset returns from the long holiday, and that the ultimate goal of the opposition was to topple Olmert's government.
The coalition did manage to make a few gains, most notably establishing a new Ministry for Pensioner's Affairs, and passing a bill that would ensure money to families of fallen soldier's by eliminating the current requirement that they prove financial need.
Many of the coalition's biggest obstacles came from within its own ranks, such as a dramatic face-off between MKs Shai Hermesh (Kadima) and Orit Noked (Labor), who each represent the kibbutz movement for their parties. The two clashed during the final reading of Hermesh's bill, which would see dozens of communities in the Gaza periphery given aid to reinforce their structures against Kassams. Noked issued an eleventh-hour objection, insisting that three more communities, including Sderot, be included in the bill.
The inclusion of those communities, however, would cost the government several million shekels, and the bill was forced back into the Finance Committee for additional debate.
"Why couldn't you let it go? You are endangering all these communities because you want several more added," yelled Hermesh during the debate. Noked responded that if she didn't insist on the additional communities being included in the current bill, they might never receive reinforcements.
The Finance Committee eventually agreed to go into an emergency session to debate the bill, and by nightfall it passed in the plenum by a unanimous vote of 37 in favor.
At that time, less than one-fourth of the Knesset remained, with most lawmakers choosing to start their recess early. Knesset officials predicted that the plenum would finish its legislation at two or three a.m., making the14-hour session the longest day for the Knesset this term.