Knesset dissolution in limbo after bills' first readings

The Knesset passed an initial vote on eight bills to disperse the Knesset Monday in massive majorities of 80 MKs or more, paving the way for early elections. The Knesset has until Tuesday night to dissolve itself. However, that deadline may come and go, if the bills can't pass a second and third vote in the Knesset. Ultimately, it may come down to a power struggle between with the Labor and Likud parties on one side, and Sharon's new party on the other, said a Knesset spokesman. Sharon has presented President Moshe Katsav with his own motion to dissolve the Knesset. If Katsav approves Sharon's motion, Sharon would have the advantages of setting the next election dates and receiving unchecked power to appoint ministers and directors. If, however, the Knesset dissolves itself, the new election date will be set by faction leaders, who will also need to give Sharon permission to appoint new ministers. "My goal is that, during the interim period until elections, the state will continue to operate properly. The prime minister's hands must not be tied," Katsav said. However, on Monday the bills appeared to be in legislative limbo with several committees vying for control. Traditionally, those bills would be directed to the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, chaired by MK Michael Eitan (Likud), which would hear objections to the bills before handing them back to the Knesset for a second and third vote. However, directly following the vote several MKs, who had joined Sharon's new party, yelled out objections, causing the bill the to go to the Knesset House committee which will rule on which committee should hear the bill. The Knesset House Committee is controlled by Sharon ally Ronnie Bar-On, who could potentially keep the bills in the committee indefinitely. Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin and Eitan decried the move as a politically motivated filibuster, and urged Bar-On to convene the House Committee immediately and pass the bills to the Law committee where, they said, they clearly belonged. "These bills passed by huge majorities," said Rivlin. "I can see no reason for debate, and they should clearly be in the Law committee." Bar-On, however, ignored the requests to convene the committee Monday night and instead called a meeting for 10 a.m. Tuesday. Should Bar-On pass the bills on to the Law committee, there will still be several other opportunities to detain the bills. MKs can raise objections to the bills during the committee, locking the bills there. Or, they could use the period between the second and third Knesset votes to detain the bills. The bills were proposed by MKs Yitzhak Levy (National Union), Zehava Gal-On (Meretz-Yahad), Ahmed Tibi (Hadash), Meir Poresh (United Torah Judaism), Eitan Cabel (Labor), Abdel Malik Dehamshe (United Arab List), Aryeh Eldad (National Union) and Zevulun Orlev (National Religious Party). The bill by Zahava Gal-On received the highest majority, with 87 Mks in favor, one against and nine abstentions, while Dehamshe's passed by the lowest margin with 74 in favor, three against, and 13 abstaining. The rest of the bills all passed within those margins. Two no-confidence motions by Meretz and Shas were withdrawn Monday morning at the request of Likud and Labor faction heads who wanted to advance the eight bills.