Failures, Headways - and Itzik

If there is a lesson to be learned from the history of the outgoing 17th Knesset, it is how small the chances of passing major reforms really are in contemporary Israel's fragmented political system. The Knesset's Constitution, Law and Justice Committee devoted hundreds of hours to drafting a new constitution and plans for a mini-revolution in the government system, neither of which was passed, because it was impossible to garner the necessary political support. It is reasonable to assume that the same thing would happen to anyone attempting to achieve something similar in the new Knesset. While these efforts were expected to fail, the fact that the outgoing Knesset also did not succeed in passing a new code of ethics can only be considered a stark failure. The passage of a new code will await the 18th Knesset.

That is not to say that the outgoing parliament didn't enact important legislation. A series of environmental laws were passed, most of them spearheaded by Hadash MK Dov Khenin; they include clean-air provisions and legislation providing for the protection of the shores of the Kinneret and the Gulf of Eilat. Thanks to the involvement of the Knesset Education, Culture and Sports Committee, headed by Michael Melchior (Labor), a wide range of legislation became law, including a bill providing for free compulsory education up to age 18, and a law providing additional government funding for libraries. Efforts by the Knesset Constitution and Law Committee resulted in legislation limiting the use of prison sentences to punish debtors. Among the social welfare legislation initiated by Gideon Sa'ar (Likud) and Shelly Yachimovich (Labor) was a bill that provides for an additional two weeks of maternity leave.

Without a doubt, the most embarrassing incident involved Balad chairman Azmi Bishara, who fled abroad amid suspicions of security-related offenses, and sparked a plethora of right-wing legislative initiatives limiting the activities of Arab MKs. One of the bills, which stipulated that anyone who visits a hostile Arab country cannot be elected to the Knesset, actually passed. Since then, United Arab List-Ta'al MK Ahmed Tibi's travels abroad have been greatly reduced.

But is was not just Arab MKs who had a hard time in the 17th Knesset. Some secular Jewish MKs suffered a setback with the success of the Shas initiative to provide funding to yeshivas, even though they do not teach general secular studies. A mini religious affairs ministry was also re-established. In addition, the Tal Law, which exempts yeshiva students from military service, was extended for an additional period.

It is common knowledge that there is no connection between parliamentary success and political longevity. Two outstanding legislators, Michael Melchior and Zahava Gal-On (Meretz), failed in their bids to return to the new Knesset. Two leading figures in Kadima - Constitution Committee chairman Menahem Ben-Sasson and MK Amira Dotan - are not returning to the Knesset. Ben-Sasson was ranked 35th on his party's Knesset list in the primaries and Dotan chose not to run again.

For better or worse, the 17th Knesset was the Dalia Itzik Knesset. In recent years, no Knesset speaker has forged as close a connection between the person and the office as she did. This was aided by Itzik filling in for Moshe Katzav for an extensive period when his service as state president was suspended. Itzik's profile was also elevated by her efforts to ensure that important foreign leaders, who came to mark Israel's 60th anniversary, would also visit the Knesset. Itzik attracted some criticism, however, on accusations that she wasted money on carpets and plants and, of course, for barring jeans in the Knesset building.