PM Pulls ILA Land Reform as Coalition Discipline Crumbles

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu suffered a resounding defeat in the Knesset plenum yesterday afternoon.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu suffered a resounding defeat in the Knesset plenum yesterday afternoon when he was forced to submit a motion to defer the vote on the second and third reading of the Israel Lands Administration Reform bill. According to the Knesset Rules of Procedure, voting on the bill may not resume before this coming Wednesday when the plenum scatters for summer recess.

As a result, if the second and third reading of the bill are not approved during Wednesday's session, the legislation process will be put off until mid-October, when the winter session begins.

The request to defer the vote was submitted by Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar, acting in place of the liaison to Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin after the coalition managed to fend off amendments proposed by opposition members.

Only 48 coalition members of Knesset opposed the amendments, while 46-47 MKs voted with the opposition.

During the course of the voting it became evident to the coalition that some of the bill's sections failed to command a majority due to the absence of ministers and Labor MKs.

Four of the Labor representatives that were present voted against the bill - the Labor "rebels" Amir Peretz, Eitan Cabel, Yuli Tamir and Ophir Pines-Paz, along with Labor faction chair Daniel Ben-Simon and Shelly Yachimovich.

Netanyahu was incensed that Labor MKs and ministers were absent during the vote. "This is going to cost you dearly," he warned Ben-Simon.

In addition, MKs Uri Orbach and Zevulun Orlev of Habayit Hayehudi, along with the party's chairman, Daniel Hershkowitz, threatened to vote in favor of the opposition amendments, which would block the sale of state-owned lands. They announced that if the reservations were not approved, they intended to vote against the bill.

Habayit Hayehudi members said people from the Prime Minister's Office threatened to block legislation of the "Smoliansky Law," which will enable Science and Technology Minister Daniel Hershkowitz to resign and be replaced by Nissan Smoliansky (National Religious Party) unless all party members voted in support of the bill.

Habayit Hayehudi activists were also warned that MK Uri Orbach would be removed from the Knesset Finance Committee, and that the coalition agreement would be dissolved.

Kadima activists said the Likud had attempted to buy support for the bill. The coalition "collapsed like a house of cards," said Kadima chairwoman Dalia Itzik.

"Netanyahu has lost and Israel has won," said a Kadima commentator. "This is good news for residents and lovers of Israel, and a resounding defeat for Netanyahu. The privatization baron's robbery reform has suffered a stinging loss."

Coalition whip Zeev Elkin (Likud) said the coalition had decided to withdraw the bill so as to consolidate a majority in favor of the reform in a responsible, measured manner.

Interestingly, a "war room" headquartered in Shelly Yachimovich's office hosted members of youth organizations, Bnei Akiva and others, who busily lobbied Knesset members to vote against the bill. Hashomer Hatzair members demonstrated against the law. Housing Minister Ariel Atias spoke before the plenum prior to the vote's deferral, with the aim of extending the debate, as coalition members worked behind the scenes in an attempt to rally a majority. Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin said he objected to deferring the vote and threatened to delay it by one day.

Atias defended the bill, calling the lease of land by the Israel Lands Administration a meaningless fiction. "There has been no point in leasing land for more than a decade," he said. "The ILA has 200 employees whose sole job is to handle leasing," he added. "It provides citizens nothing but headaches and bogs down economic and real estate activity in the country."