Coalitionscape: What's a New MK to do?

If the way the terror bombing in Tel Aviv transformed the festive swearing in of the new Knesset yesterday into a somber occasion teaches us anything, it's that nothing stays as planned in the Israeli parliament. As much as we all hope that the Islamic Jihad suicide bomber, who took the lives of nine, was just the single one that got through and that the security force's phenomenal rate of success against his partners-in-crime continues, we must take into account that Olmert's administration won't be the first government to operate under the risk that its whole policy agenda could be derailed by a new terror offensive. For now, all the talk is about the convergence plan and the new mechanism for raising the minimum wage. Neither of these ambitious initiatives will have much of a chance if chaos in the Palestinian Authority leads to an outbreak of suicide bombings on our city streets and a downward spiral in the economic situation. So what will be the legacy of the 17th Knesset if the new coalition's raison d'etre disappears? Another question facing many of the Knesset members - an unprecedented third of them joining parliament for the first time - is whether they have a chance of being reelected the next time around. Kadima's MKs have no way of knowing if their party will be a one-term wonder. That's ever more true for the Pensioner's Party, whose seven MKs still haven't come to terms with their electoral fluke. Yisrael Beiteinu's members know that if they run afoul of their leader, Avigdor Lieberman, in any way, they are also on a one-time visit. Since most of these newcomers won't be appointed as ministers, they will begin thinking soon of ways to leave their mark. This holds true for the frustrated Likud parliamentarians, unaccustomed to life in opposition. Imposing voting discipline on the members of the new, unwieldy coalition - expected to include over eighty members from half a dozen parties - will be extremely difficult. The government will probably be able to command a majority for most of its legislation, but it will be a nightmare for the whips to try to prevent coalition members from acting as free agents and pushing through their own pet laws. The time is ripe for the high-caliber, new members to begin, in this session, to form alliances across party lines to push through long-overdue legislation on a wide range of issues. The government will have enough on its plate pushing through its grand schemes while just trying to keep the ship afloat. Smart backbenchers should start thinking about what they can accomplish on there own. There is a wide, ad-hoc coalition, stretching from Meretz to the Likud, that could finally vote in favor of an Israeli constitution. It was originally the job of the first Knesset to write one, but inter-party rivalry and the challenges of ensuring the survival of a struggling new state quickly pushed it aside. Since then, small special-interest parties, especially the Ultra-Orthodox, have nipped any constitutional initiatives in the bud. This Knesset could go a long way to finally accomplishing that worthy task. Another related piece of legislation would be electoral reform, ensuring that future governments will have a better chance at getting the job done. The 16th Knesset and last month's elections provided further proof of the urgent necessity for such reform. Still another field is environmental legislation. Special interests and bureaucracy prevented the passage of laws that would have made industry, and especially local government, fully accountable for the ecological shambles disfiguring much of the country. A dedicated group of MKs could finally make that happen. Who knows, they might even make Jerusalem's mayor clean the capital's streets. A worthwhile bill would be one that obligates the government to provide fair and fixed compensations for settlers forced to leave their homes in any future pullbacks. Right-wing MKs would find it hard to vote for such a law, as they will have their work cut out for them trying to prevent those pullbacks - but they might be convinced by making it retroactive, helping to alleviate the suffering of the Gush Katif evacuees. This might be the term in which the Knesset reasserts itself in a series of serious cross-aisle initiatives. New MKs have no spare time to lean back and enjoy their new seats and wait for the government to get its act together. They might even gain enough public support to ensure another term in the big house.