'Netanyahu gone out on a limb and is looking for a way down'

'Mofaz bill,' which could pass by Tuesday, might enable Likud right-wingers to split off.

netanyahu sophisticated mishkafofer 248 (photo credit: AP)
netanyahu sophisticated mishkafofer 248
(photo credit: AP)
Despite vocal opposition among senior Likud lawmakers, coalition chairman Ze'ev Elkin (Likud) told associates Sunday that he planned to present the "Mofaz bill" for its first reading on the Knesset floor Monday, and then push it through a marathon committee hearing in time for a final vote as early as the next night. The bill - which would allow any group of "rebel MKs" totaling at least seven to form its own faction or join another Knesset faction - would be the first - and only - of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's "governance laws" to reach its second and third (final) readings on the Knesset floor during the summer session, which ends this week. The five bills had taken a central position in the government's agenda for the session, but one by one, they encountered roadblocks en route to the house floor. "Bibi has gone out on a limb by insisting on the Mofaz bill and is looking for a way to get down off it," said one Likud Knesset official, but dismissed claims that the bill - if approved - would quickly be applied to the Likud to allow right-wing MKs within the party to split and form their own faction. A second governance law - the so-called "mini-Norwegian bill," which would allow one cabinet member from each party in the coalition to resign their Knesset seat for the duration of their service as minister and be replaced by the next name on their party's candidate list - seems to have stalled. Last week, a joint session of the Law and House committees decided to divide the bill for debate after it passed its first reading, but no second or third readings have been scheduled for the last week of the session. Much to Netanyahu's consternation, the three other governance bills - raising the number of votes required for a no-confidence and for a spending bill, and allowing deputy ministers to vote in Knesset committees - have not even been submitted for first readings. The Likud official emphasized that any failure on the Mofaz bill would be disastrous for the coalition following last week's blockage of the Israel Lands Administration reform bill. He added that Netanyahu had begun to suffer within his own party once MKs and ministers saw that despite his threats, the prime minister never punished freshman MK Miri Regev for her outspoken opposition to the attempt to impose value-added tax on fruits and vegetables. Over the weekend, Government Services Minister Michael Eitan spoke out against the Mofaz bill. He joined other Likud officials, including Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin and Intelligence Affairs Minister Dan Meridor, in explaining that they believed the bill was designed to target one party - Kadima - and was thus anti-democratic. But unlike Rivlin - who sources said told Netanyahu weeks ago that he would neither run the plenum hearings on the law nor be present during the vote - Eitan and Meridor said they would uphold coalition discipline and vote in favor. The bill's namesake, Kadima MK Shaul Mofaz, reiterated that he would vote against the legislation. In all likelihood, the measure will pass its first reading - albeit by a slim margin - on Monday, provided that Labor lawmakers meet their coalition obligation to support the legislation. In that case, Elkin will work to make sure the bill is routed through the House Committee and any other relevant committee on Tuesday morning, request an exemption from the usual waiting period, and then bring it up for a second and third reading on the floor on Tuesday evening. The opposition was still deliberating on Sunday evening what strategy to apply once the bill is brought for its first vote. Earlier in the Knesset session, the opposition managed to block progress on the bill by staging a walkout and boycott of Knesset proceedings, returning only after Rivlin intervened. But they promised that should the Mofaz bill be brought for a vote, they would renew the protest.