Analysis: Knesset goes back to work under the shadow of terrorism

There’s a country to run, not just to defend, and there will be other issues the Knesset will have to address in the next six months.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) confers with Yisrael Beytenu chief Avigdor Liberman in the Knesset (photo credit: AFP PHOTO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) confers with Yisrael Beytenu chief Avigdor Liberman in the Knesset
(photo credit: AFP PHOTO)
The second session of the 20th Knesset is set to begin Monday with a full docket of bills to prepare and a state budget to pass, but the uptick in Palestinian violence in recent weeks could push aside issues that seemed pressing just a few weeks ago.
The 2015/16 budget – which is actually a 13-month spending plan applicable from December 2015 – must pass by November 19, and the Knesset Finance Committee has been holding intensive meetings for the past month on the few days available between the many holidays and weekends.
Budgets tend to dominate Knesset winter sessions (when there isn’t an election, twoyear budget or something else that disrupts the usual order), but in the coming six weeks before the final votes, if the security situation doesn’t significantly improve, it’s more likely we will hear MKs talking about that than about whether the Culture and Sport Ministry or any other will get more or less funding.
However, one part of the budget will probably stand out even more than usual in light of recent events. The Defense Ministry’s usual cajoling to increase its budget, which finance ministers have tried to cut for years with little success, will likely be even much more convincing to lawmakers. Those who said the fact that the 2015/16 budget the Knesset approved in a first reading had a higher education budget than a defense one was too good to be true will probably be proven right.
Meanwhile, in non-budgetary legislation, bills involving punishments for terrorists are more likely to take the fore. Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked’s proposal to increase punishments for rock throwers, which the Ministerial Committee for Legislation approved on Sunday, will be brought to a first reading on Monday, and is likely to be brought to second and third readings as soon as a week later.
The coalition still only consists of 61 seats, so any bill can bring drama to the legislature.
However, increased violence could bring more support for government proposals from opposition parties.
A previous bill increasing the penalty for rock-throwing had support from some of the Zionist Union in July, and Yisrael Beytenu and Yesh Atid would be hard-pressed not to support measures meant to fight terrorism when the parties’ chairmen Avigdor Liberman and Yair Lapid, as well as opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Zionist Union), talk tough about the government’s response to terrorism.
Another indication of the unity facing terrorism can bring is that on Sunday, Lapid decided to pull Yesh Atid’s no confidence motions saying, “Now is not the time for politics.”
Still, there’s a country to run, not just defend, and there will be other issues that must be addressed in the next six months.
For example, the government has to find some way to get its gas outline approved.
No changes have been made on that front in the past month: Economy Minister Deri still refuses to circumvent the former antitrust commissioner’s opposition, and the coalition still doesn’t have enough votes to circumvent Deri, because Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, Construction Minister Yoav Galant and Welfare and Social Services Minister Haim Katz are still claiming conflicts of interest even though the Knesset legal adviser said there aren’t any for the vote in the legislature.
In addition, the Knesset will work on the “Cornflakes Reform” to lower the prices of imported dry food, and other reforms meant to lower the cost of living and housing.
The coalition also plans to cancel a controversial provision added by MK Yisrael Eichler (United Torah Judaism) in the bill that replaces the Israel Broadcast Authority with a new public corporation that would ban the expression of personal opinions on the air.
The Knesset’s agenda for this week exemplifies the tension between life under a wave of violence and business as usual.
On Tuesday, there will be a special plenum meeting in honor of former tourism minister Rehavam “Gandhi” Ze’evi, who was assassinated by a Palestinian in 2001.
Gandhi was known for being tough on terrorism, and the speeches by Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Herzog will probably focus on that.
On Wednesday, the Knesset will be in a more celebratory mood, with Indian President Pranab Mukherjee addressing the plenum, and the same cast of Israeli characters as the previous day speaking after him.
Like any other major foreign guest to the Knesset, Mukherjee will be met with an honor guard and fanfare.
MKs might get whiplash from the change in atmosphere from one day to the next, but if things don’t calm down around the country, that’s something they’ll have to get used to.