Analysis: Winter is coming

Knesset session opens with coalition in turmoil.

The Knesset (photo credit: ITZIK EDRI/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)
The Knesset
The Knesset was set to begin a new session Monday, with disputes within the coalition and a budget deadline looming over the coming months, making the phrase “winter is coming” sound as ominous to MKs as it does to the characters on the hit TV show Game of Thrones.
The start of the winter session tends to have a first-dayof- school feeling, with lawmakers returning to the Knesset after the long summer break, which is lengthier than kids’ summer vacation. As in every year, the session will kick off on Monday afternoon with speeches by Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, President Reuven Rivlin, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and opposition leader Isaac Herzog.
Rivlin and Edelstein’s offices said they will be talking about things like democratic values and the importance of respecting different groups in Israeli society, while paying tribute to important Jewish figures who died in recent months – former president Shimon Peres and Nobel laureate and Holocaust survivor Eli Wiesel.
Many of the lawmakers in the room, however, will be focused on other, less abstract matters, and the coalition may struggle to stay united in their wake, with some even taking up the tactics of Game of Thrones hero John Snow and seeking partners on the other side of the wall, or the political divide in this case.
In recent days, two issues have been on the politicians’ minds – the pending demolition order against the illegal settlement Amona and KAN, the Hebrew name of the controversial new Israel Broadcasting Corporation (IBC).
The IBC is scheduled to launch on January 1 – which won’t happen if the prime minister has his way. At least two parties in the coalition – Bayit Yehudi and Kulanu – have said they will fight to block its replacing the existing Israel Broadcasting Authority, which Netanyahu has vowed to keep intact.
For some in both the coalition and the opposition, the dispute has turned into a struggle for freedom of the press and its independence from government influence – Herzog plans to tackle the issue head-on in his speech – and KAN is unlikely to go down without a big, political fight.
Another issue is Amona, an illegal outpost whose demolition has been ordered by the High Court of Justice by the end of the year. Likud and Bayit Yehudi MKs and ministers have been trying to find a way to postpone and eventually prevent that from taking place, whether by passing a bill to legalize all outposts under certain conditions – a ministerial vote on the Bayit Yehudi bill was postponed to next week – or for the government to vote to legalize Amona, specifically, without having to go through the legislative process.
If similar scenarios from the past are any indication, the future of Amona could remain in discussion for months, keeping the coalition’s stability in constant flux.
While all this political turmoil takes place, the Knesset needs to start working on passing the 2017- 2018 state budget. The deadline is, theoretically, at the end of this year, though the government can ask for an extension until March before being forced to go to an election if the budget does not pass.
MKs will receive their copies of the budget – on flash drives and not on paper for the first time – and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon is scheduled to present the budget and economic arrangements bill to the Knesset Finance Committee on Monday. The panel will continue the work it began over the summer and delegate chapters of the budget to other committees.
The Knesset winter session is beginning relatively late this year, due to Jewish calendar fluctuations, meaning MKs can expect to work even more late nights than usual during budget season.
With so many contentious political issues on the agenda, MKs may find themselves just as concerned about the onset of the winter session as the characters on Game of Thrones – with political rivals who can be just as scheming and devious.