Stormy Weather Ahead as Knesset Winter Session Commences

Netanyahu's coalition will be tested as its factions pursue their own legislative agendas.

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Netanyahu at a cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, October 10, 2014.
Netanyahu at a cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, October 10, 2014.Credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

The Knesset winter session that begins on Monday morning is expected to be exceptionally stormy and tense, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s crumbling coalition being repeatedly put to the test over a series of controversial bills its various factions want to see passed.

The key coalition struggle will revolve around the passing of the state budget and the zero-VAT bill on new apartments being advanced by Finance Minister Yair Lapid. Although coalition support for the zero-VAT bill is assured, opposition MKs are expected to conduct a rough, personal campaign against Netanyahu and Lapid on the issue.

The crisis that erupted last week over the conversion bill demonstrated that the primary glue holding the coalition parties together is the fear of elections, since hardly any of the promises of reform made by the parties during the previous election campaign have been kept, primarily due to lack of support.

Construction and Housing Minister Uri Ariel (Habayit Hayehudi) said Sunday that his party was liable to break up the coalition over legislation on religion and state, or over the diplomatic process and the continued construction freeze in the settlements. Meanwhile, ministers Tzipi Livni, Lapid, and Avigdor Lieberman are joining forces to advance a series of laws on religion and state, while Yesh Atid and Hatenuah have declared they are cooperating on trying to restart talks with the Palestinians.

The coalition squabbles are expected to begin first thing this morning during a Knesset Constitution, Law, and Justice Committee hearing on the controversial conversion bill. Just last week, Netanyahu announced he would not advance the reforms proposed in the bill as a cabinet decision, due to the pressure from Habayit Hayehudi and the ultra-Orthodox parties.

As a result, Livni, Lapid, and Lieberman will try to circumvent Netanyahu by trying to push the bill through the Knesset. Yisrael Beiteinu, now freed from its partnership with the Likud, is expected to be more dominant during this Knesset session. Lieberman will attempt to position himself as an independent, influential player, in an effort to steal secular voters from the Likud and Habayit Hayehudi. Both Lapid and Lieberman are expected to work toward passing a law that would permit limited public transportation on Shabbat. On the other hand, Yisrael Beiteinu is unlikely to help Yesh Atid advance its flagship legislation on civil marriage, because the former party vehemently objects to including gays in the legislation.

The right-wing parties are liable to shake up the coalition with controversial legislative initiatives. MKs Orit Strock (Habayit Hayehudi) and Yariv Levin (Likud) recently proposed 10 different bills aimed at imposing Israeli sovereignty over the West Bank settlements. The two divided the settlements up into 10 different areas and, according to Strock, “we will submit the bills gradually, at the most appropriate time.” She added, “There are areas considered more within the consensus, and we will try to promote them first.”