Knesset - Michal Fattal - 18072011
A vote in Israel's Knesset. Illustrative. Photo by Michal Fattal
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The Knesset is putting the brakes on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's plan to rush through approval of a bill that is itself intended to expedite the approval of construction plans.

Debate on the bill will be delayed "for a few days," MK Amnon Cohen, who heads the Knesset Interior and Environment Committee, announced yesterday. No new date was set for a vote, but sources believe it will be sent to the plenum within three weeks and not be held over for the Knesset's summer session.

The committee vote was scheduled to take place Wednesday, in keeping with Netanyahu's interest in moving forward on the bill this week.

"We will not hurry to legislate the new planning and building law, which constitutes an extreme revolution that destroys the planning bureaucracy and replaces it with a totally different structure," said MK Dov Khenin (Hadash), who is leading the Knesset opposition to the bill. "Precisely because [the bill] is so radical, good judgment is needed in its final stages, and the process must be serious and in-depth, particularly since it is not meant to go into effect for two years."

But MKs say they haven't been given the time to digest just how the bill, which has more than 600 clauses, will change the existing planning and building laws. The final version of the bill was circulated only a week ago,

The Knesset committee may be waiting for a High Court of Justice decision on a petition filed by the Israel Union for Environmental Defense, which said MKs would not have enough time to review the bill properly before voting on it.

The Knesset is due to respond to the petition today, with Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin expected to tell the court that a vote had been postponed by at least two weeks.

Netanyahu wanted the bill to go to the plenum within two weeks, fearing that a crisis that leads to early elections might end up derailing it.

He made it clear to senior Knesset officials that he would not brook any delay in the plenum vote, even though the bill has more than 600 clauses and its final version was circulated only a week ago, leaving MKs to complain they don't have enough time to study it.

"If the Knesset doesn't vote on the bill within the next two weeks, they won't vote on it at all," Netanyahu reportedly said.

But MKs who have begun reviewing the bill say it contains substantial changes that were not debated in committee over the past two years.

The Israel Union for Environmental Defense, meanwhile, told Cohen yesterday that it would no longer attend committee meetings on the bill, since as far as the government is concerned the bill is "final" and there would apparently be no more serious public debate on it.