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gal-on 298.88.(Photo by: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Forecasted Knesset storm blows over
Many MKs feel a widespread sense of instability in the current government.
All the signs were there, and the storm hatches were battened down. The first week of the Knesset's winter session was full of controversial bills to reform the government, and a kick-off appearance of President Moshe Katsav was expected to ensure that the parliament would get off to a stormy start. But by week's end, however, barely a whimper was heard after each of those controversies was removed from the Knesset agenda. "We are living at a time when politicians are afraid of controversy, afraid to make a splash," said one senior Labor MK. "Nobody wants to dive in when there's no lifeguard, to make sure you won't drown." According to many MKs, there is a widespread sense of instability in the current government, with many already planning their remarks around the possibility of early elections. "With [former prime minister Ariel] Sharon there was a strong feeling of leadership, some people called it a grandfather quality," said MK Otniel Schneller. "He gave many the feeling that he would take care of them." In the current government no such feeling exists, acknowledged MKs both within and without the coalition. As they sat around the Knesset cafeteria this week, jokes circulated about which would come first, a presidential race or a parliamentary one. "Katsav became president because he had a clean reputation, and after the scandal of the last president we needed a "good boy," said Meretz MK Zehava Gal-On. "Now look what's happened." The last president, Ezer Weizman, resigned following allegations that he did not report large amounts of money he received from businessmen. While Weizman was investigated, he was never prosecuted, a fate that appears to be looming for Katsav as police recommended this week that he be charged with rape. Katsav had originally announced that he would attend the Knesset's opening ceremony regardless of the police recommendation, but reconsidered at the last moment and announced that he would absent himself "out of respect to the institution of the parliament." That took the wind out of the sails of more than 20 MKs who had planned various forms of protest for the president, with several expressing regret that their creative efforts would go to waste. "I spent a lot of time and energy planning how to protest Katsav, and now I'm disappointed that I won't be able to use it," said MK Yoram Marciano (Labor). When Gal-On tried to turn the momentum of the protesters towards a different cause, launching Knesset proceedings to force the president to resign, she found that she could barely muster five MKs to help her. "We needed 20 MKs to launch the procedure, the same 20 that were looking forward to a protest in the plenum… but they have no spine, nobody wanted to do anything real, concrete, to force Katsav to leave," said Gal-On. Even in the realm of actual legislation, expected shock waves were not registered. Later in the week, the Knesset was supposed to have heard two bills, one from Kadima and one from Israel Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman, on governmental reform. While Lieberman's plan advocated an American-style presidential system, Kadima was promoting a plan for direct elections that would see the leader of the largest party become prime minister automatically. However, both bills were withdrawn at the last minute, when it became apparent that they would not muster enough support to pass a first vote. With the controversies gone, so were most of the MKs. By the second day of the session, only one-third of the plenum was full. By the third day, Wednesday, barely a dozen MKs turned up.
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