(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
When a Knesset speaker is good, he or she tends to upset the very coalition which ensconced him or her in this influential office. That's because a first-rate speaker transcends narrow partisanship and demonstrates independence.
That's exactly how the Likud's Reuven Rivlin - now again appointed to the job he held during the 16th Knesset under the first Ariel Sharon government - conducts himself. Israelis of all political persuasion are incontrovertibly the beneficiaries of his fair-mindedness and refusal to compromise the public interest.
Just last week Rivlin took on both the sometimes reckless private legislative initiatives of individual MKs and the government's legislative hanky-panky. The bottom line in both cases was to make sure that the taxpayers don't end up the big losers.
The private bills of Knesset members may sometimes be born of virtuous intentions but they are often profligate to extreme. As a result many clauses of the omnibus Arrangements Bill, which accompanies each budget proposal, are devoted to nullifying assorted private legislative whims previously passed by the Knesset.
Rivlin, however, rightly looks askance at this omnibus, most of whose content go unexamined and is often included in give-and-take deals, without any specific or effective consideration.
Neither private members bills, nor the "arrangements" geared to shield the Treasury from the consequences of private bills, are carefully deliberated. In an attempt to combat both ills, Rivlin now proposes that each private member's bill which would cost taxpayers NIS 2 million or more should require not a mere majority but the support of a minimum of 55 MKs to pass.
This high hurdle could help reduce the load of trash legislation which increasingly encumbers the Arrangements Bill. It would make the adoption of frivolous laws against the coalition's wishes more difficult, and it would also do away with the farce of the Knesset invalidating laws it had just recently enacted; in both cases without due scrutiny.
Rivlin rightly argues that the Arrangements Law is a crude tool in the hands of premiers like Binyamin Netanyahu (and Ehud Barak in the 1990s) who rarely partake in Knesset activity. Instead of preventing harmful private bills in real time, they retroactively reverse them. This emboldens highly partisan factions such as Shas to buck coalition authority. It likewise encourages government passivity over the management of legislation and undermines the Knesset by recklessly speeding up legislation without systematic deliberation, appropriate oversight and critiquing.
RIVLIN'S UNWAVERINGLY principled stance led to a head-on collision with the government last week. The speaker rightly demanded that the controversial Israel Lands Authority reform be left out of the arrangements framework. The Treasury insists it is staying.
Land reform, one of the planks of Netanyahu's economic platform, promises to drastically reduce bureaucracy, yet some of its ramifications are staggering.
Among many possibly unintended consequences, it could lead to control of public lands by unscrupulous greedy developers. It could even set the stage for large stretches of the country to fall under the control of foreign entities to the detriment of the national interest. And it could further diminish agriculture in Israel and deprive the country of the few open and unspoiled nature reserves. More than any proposed law in recent years, land reform demands the most vigilant scrutiny. It is unconscionable to allow land reform legislation to sail through on the back of an omnibus already laden with legislative bric-a-brac.
The issue of land reform is one of public policy, not partisan politics, since it relates to the wholesale privatization of this country's publicly owned property. That is why it has stirred intense controversy across the political spectrum and within the coalition itself. Regardless of whether reform is a good idea or not, adding so weighty a matter to an already cluttered and confusing Arrangements Bill is a transparent ruse to rush land reform through without essential parliamentary oversight.
In the resulting stand-off between Rivlin and the mighty Treasury, we are, sadly, far from confident that the speaker can prevail. The very struggle he has been mounting deserves our gratitude. Another Knesset speaker might have expedited the machinations of the coalition which appointed him.
Citizens should be appreciative that Rivlin's integrity prevents him from simply going along. And we should be hopeful that he will emerge victorious in this battle.