Arrangements Bill Passes After Stuporous Debate

The Economic Arrangements bill for 2009 and 2010 managed to pass its second and third readings into law yesterday evening, after a dull debate marked by Israel's parliamentarians napping and reading extraneous material.

The bill won support from 63 Knesset members, with 45 against.

The Arrangements law is a hodgepodge of completely unrelated items, that have some economic bent or other.

Opponents included four Labor 'rebels', Yuli Tamir, Eitan Cabel, Ophir Pines-Paz, as well as Shelly Yachimovich. MK Tzipi Hotovely (Likud) voted against the government on one section of the bill that addresses delaying implementation of the Free Education Law for 3 and 4-year-olds - citing her obligation to education.

MK Ahmed Tibi sought before the vote to clarify whether or not any special agreement had been forged between Shas and the government, after Shas withdrew its opposition to the bill. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded that no agreement had been made. During the vote Netanyahu exchanged whispers with Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, while Kadima chairwoman Tzipi Livni and MK Shaul Mofaz, who sat side by side in the plenum, exchanged hardly a word and avoided eye contact with one another.

The final vote on the second and third readings of the 2009-2010 budget will begin today. The final votes are expected to be held during the evening or in the early hours of tomorrow morning. Under the law, the Knesset must approve the budget by midnight tomorrow, or the Knesset will be obliged to dissolve and elections declared.

The arrangements bill was "debated" for over 27.5 hours. Kadima employed a roster of party members to speak before the plenum one after another, armed with a "Netanyahu kit" that included quotes and comments on economic issues - and especially the issue of VAT on fruits and vegetables - to spice up their speeches, which were generally made before a near-empty plenum.

By 1 A.M. only Kadima party members remained. They were joined by MK Ahmed Tibi at 3 A.M., who oversaw the meeting in his capacity as the Knesset's deputy chairman.

The vote on the Arrangements Law began at last at 11 A.M. yesterday. Knesset members voted on hundreds of clauses, and some were unable to follow either the voting process or the clause that had been brought to vote. For the first time, Knesset Chairman Reuven Rivlin permitted Knesset members to conduct whispered telephone calls on the cellphones within the plenum. Knesset members in the midst of phone conversations found themselves at times voting without noticing what they were voting on.