PM victorious in Knesset votes

But Labor split looms after Knesset passes Israel Lands Authority reform bill and 'Mofaz Law.'

Yacimovich Knesset 248.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimksi)
Yacimovich Knesset 248.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimksi)
A morning of wheeling and dealing paid off for Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu Monday when a special recess session of the Knesset managed to tie up loose ends from the Summer Session with two key victories for the government. In short order early Monday afternoon, the Knesset approved both the "Mofaz Law" and the Israel Lands Authority Reform Bill, two pieces of legislation that were close to Netanyahu's heart and that faced tough Knesset battles en route to their approval. Netanyahu succeeded in passing the bills thanks to deals he reached with Labor chairman Ehud Barak. The deals forced Labor ministers to vote in favor of the bills, but further exacerbated the tension in the divided faction and increased the possibility that Labor would split after Wednesday's key party convention. Labor MK Eitan Cabel wrote his colleagues in his faction a letter following the votes, warning that the party had committed suicide and buried itself and that Labor's founders were turning over in their graves. Labor's no. 2, Isaac Herzog, threatened to leave the party after the convention. Only one MK would need to join the four Labor rebels to legally split the party. But sources close to Barak mocked his political opponents and said that following the convention, his power would be enhanced and opposition would no longer be tolerated. Netanyahu claimed victory following the passing of the bills. The Likud released a statement saying the votes proved the government was stable and the opposition was crumbling. The prime minister was smiling after the bills passed their second and third readings by wide majorities. The opposition enabled the votes when it gave up on some 20 hours of debate to which it was still entitled on the Mofaz Law, which reduces the number of MKs required to split from a faction from one-third to seven in the case of parties totaling over 21 members. That law ultimately passed with 61 MKs supporting and 42 opposing. "The Likud-split law passed and with it the message that Netanyahu is a weak prime minister who needed to threaten his ministers and buy the trust of his partners with public money in order to preserve his political survivability," Kadima spokesman Shmulik Dahan said in response to the defeat. "A black flag is flying over the Knesset," said Labor rebel MK Ophir Paz-Pines. "This is the continuation of the political thuggery of the government and the coalition." While Coalition chairman Ze'ev Elkin (Likud) spoke to buy time before the key votes, Netanyahu and his advisers engaged in last-minute attempts to ensure the support of both Labor and the tiny Jewish Home faction for the ILA reform. Less than an hour before the vote, Habayit Hayehudi chairman Daniel Herschkovitz spoke to assembled press members and assured them that he would oppose the reform, which was opposed by the B'nei Akiva religious youth movement and by many within the settler movement as a whole. The ILA reform aims to restructure the ILA and allow people to own their property outright, rather than lease it from the ILA, and would make the organization subordinate to the Construction and Housing Ministry. In the deal reached with Labor, Netanyahu agreed to establish a ministerial committee after the law passed to reassess the reform and to add amendments that would limit the reform's scope. Netanyahu and Barak also agreed to support an amendment to the bill proposed by Labor MK Shelly Yacimovich and MK Nissim Ze'ev (Shas) through which the privatization of 800,000 state-owned dunams would be divided into two equal stages, before and after 2014, with the later stage only to be carried out after the success of the first stage is assessed. But when Yacimovich, one of the key opponents of the bill, heard that her amendment would form the basis for the bill's success, she engaged in a verbal brawl on the floor in an attempt to withdraw her amendment rather than have it be used to pave the way for the reform. Her co-sponsor, however, refused to withdraw the amendment, and, in the vote that would determine the future of the reform, Yacimovich voted together with the opposition - including the Labor rebels and two Jewish Home MKs, Zevulun Orlev and Uri Orbach - against her own amendment. Likud ministers and MKs whose opposition to the bill almost caused its floor defeat last month closed ranks with their party leader, with even vocal opponent of the reform freshman MK Tzipi Hotovely (Likud) ultimately casting her vote in favor despite initial confusion. "I chose to support the reform on the basis of a personal promise that was given to me to establish a ministerial committee that will add amendments into the bill in order to ensure that the reform will not harm the values of the country as a Zionist state, and so that the land will not fall into the hands of foreigners," explained Hotovely after the vote. "The prime minister committed to the statement that there will be no further privatizations." Due to Hotovely's initial independent behavior, sources close to Netanyahu hinted late Monday that she could be removed from the chairmanship of the Knesset Women's Affairs Committee. But Netanyahu's spokesman denied that this was a possibility.