Knesset Winter Session to Open Monday, With National Security Issue Topping Agenda

With just 61 of the Knesset’s 120 members, the coalition has the slimmest possible majority to pass a budget and an omnibus counterterrorism bill.

Jonathan Lis
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The Knesset plenum, July 2015.Credit: Emil Salman
Jonathan Lis

The Knesset will return from its lengthy summer recess Monday, with the security situation certain to occupy a prominent place on the agenda.

Other major issues over the coming months will include passing the budget, and in particular resolving a dispute over the defense budget; enacting an omnibus counterterrorism law and approving the government’s agreement with the natural-gas monopoly.

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon (L) with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Knesset, July 27, 2015.Credit: Emil Salman

“I’m convinced that during the winter session, too, the coalition will succeed in realizing its goals and demonstrate unity and harmony both in committee work and in plenary votes,” declared MK Tzachi Hanegbi (Likud), who as coalition whip is responsible for keeping the fractious coalition partners in line so that the government does not fall.

But MK Merav Michaeli, chairwoman of the largest opposition party, Zionist Union, vowed to make the government’s life as difficult as possible.

“This will be the session of a budget that doesn’t solve the problems of the State of Israel and its citizens, of eroding security and diplomatic deterioration,” she said. “We, for our part, will continue to lead an opposition that will be a clear alternative and will fight to reduce the damage that [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu will continue to cause Israel.”

Herzog walks past Netanyahu at the Knesset, January 20, 2014.Credit: AP

With just 61 of the Knesset’s 120 members, the coalition has the slimmest possible majority. Nevertheless, both coalition and opposition MKs predicted that it would survive the winter session, mainly because none of the coalition parties currently has a better option.

“None of the coalition partners has an interest in holding elections now, so none of the ministers will rush to dismantle the government,” one coalition source said, noting that even Habayit Hayehudi chairman Naftali Bennett “has backed down from his threats to condition remaining in the coalition on a resumption of building in the settlements. Even he understands that the current situation, problematic though it is, is preferable to the alternatives.”

Moreover, though the recent wave of terror attacks would seem to constitute a threat to Netanyahu’s reign, neither of his two most likely challengers — Zionist Union chairman Isaac Herzog and Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid — has created a viable threat to the coalition, said the source, who asked not to be identified.

The government will also be bolstered over the coming weeks by implementation of the so-called Norwegian Law. This recently passed legislation allows one minister from each party to resign from the Knesset, thereby making way for a new MK from that party to enter parliament.

Bringing in five new MKs will make the coalition’s life easier, because currently, it is very short on MKs who are neither ministers nor deputy ministers, and therefore free to devote themselves to their parliamentary work. The fact that the ministers will no longer have to spend hours in the Knesset attending votes will also allow them to devote more time to their ministry portfolios.

Even if Herzog is invited to join the government, it seems doubtful that he would agree, since the idea is widely opposed by Zionist Union MKs. Moreover, the two parties that comprise Zionist Union — Labor and Hatnuah — are due to begin exploring the possibility of a full merger in the coming days. That possibility will depend, inter alia, on whether Herzog is able to retain his position as Labor Party chairman.

The recent security escalation is liable to provide a tailwind for finally passing a wide-ranging overhaul of existing counterterrorism laws that has repeatedly stalled in previous Knessets. Moreover, though a law stiffening sentences for stone-throwers was passed just a few months ago, the Knesset is now expected to revisit the subject, with several MKs proposing legislation that would mandate minimum sentences for stone-throwing and other similar offenses committed inside Israel (as opposed to in the West Bank).

Just a few weeks ago, one of the media’s hot-button issues was a provision of the new broadcasting law that prohibited journalists employed by the state-owned Israel Broadcasting Authority from expressing opinions on air. In response to the outcry, Netanyahu promised to repeal that provision. Now, however, the government is dragging its feet. The amendment was supposed to be brought to the Ministerial Committee for Legislation yesterday, but was instead postponed for a week.