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Israeli Government’s 'Package Deal’ Hinders Democracy and Peace

The three bills are significant enough for coalition members not to have to indulge in political horse-trading.

Coalition chairman Yariv Levin sent a letter Sunday demanding that the coalition parties support all three of the government’s flagship bills up for a vote this week: the bill raising the electoral threshold to 3.25 percent from 2 percent, the bill on drafting ultra-Orthodox men into the Israel Defense Forces, and the bill requiring a referendum before land under Israeli control is given up.

Levin’s letter is part of a package deal designed to blur some parties’ opposition to the legislation. And the coalition chairman has another tool to ensure that the bills pass. He has invoked Clause 98 of the Knesset regulations, which has hitherto only been used in debates on the state budget and in rare cases such as the 2005 Gaza pullout. The clause dramatically shortens the length of debates and compromises the opposition’s ability to voice objections.

Tying the bills together is not only a procedural issue or a way to muzzle the opposition. Unlike the bill on drafting Haredi Jews into the military, which has been debated at length publicly, the other two bills are being voted on without all objections being aired.

And though it could be legitimate to raise the electoral threshold gradually following a true dialogue, a jump to 3.25 percent would sink small parties, especially the Arab parties. The claim by the bill’s initiators that the Arab parties can unite presumes that there is no value to a variety of opinions in the Arab community, as opposed to the Jewish community.

The referendum bill, which would require a referendum on territorial compromises, is designed to shackle the peace process during this Knesset and the following ones. In fact, the question arises as to how a coalition seeking to strengthen itself (via the threshold bill) is proposing to weaken itself (via the referendum bill).

There’s a difference between good government and political wheeling and dealing. The three bills are significant enough for coalition members not to have to indulge in political horse-trading. Levin’s package should be taken apart.