With the Budget Approved, These Are the Challenges Awaiting Israel’s Governing Coalition

Haaretz has mapped out some of the more explosive issues post-budget coalition leaders are expected to deal with

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From left: Coalition heads Lapid, Bennett, Sa'ar and Michaeli in the Knesset.
From left: Coalition heads Lapid, Bennett, Sa'ar and Michaeli in the Knesset.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

During the negotiations between the parties over the coalition agreements, everyone agreed not to introduce any controversial proposals or laws that could destabilize and threaten the existence of the coalition until the state budget was passed. The thinking of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid was that coalition members’ appetite for bringing down the government would diminish after the budget was passed, and then they could start discussing the explosive issues.

Now, the post-budget coalition leaders will have to decide which laws to promote. All parties have pet bills and find others acceptable under no circumstances. It’s assumed every party will have to give up something, be it laws they want passed or totally oppose. Haaretz has mapped out these laws, and the obstacles to their passage.

Term limits for the prime minister, banning criminal defendants forming a new government:

Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar is behind these proposed bills. Sa’ar has coordinated his moves with Bennett, and the two agreed to wait for the budget to pass. Nonetheless, Bennett has remained silent on the matter. Although most of the coalition supports the bills, Yamina is divided. Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked strongly opposes the laws, but she notably is no longer a legislator after resigning under the so-called Norwegian Law. Other Yamina lawmakers oppose the bill preventing a criminal defendant from forming a government.

A light rail car used in a trial run in Petah Tikva.Credit: Ofer Vaknin

Operating light rail on Shabbat in Tel Aviv:

Barring delays, the first line of the light rail train in the Tel Aviv metropolitan area – the Red Line – is expected to begin running next year. Because Israel has never had a real subway before, Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli will have to decide whether it will operate on Shabbat. She said at the most recent meeting of Labor Party lawmakers that her position is “known” – she and her party support operating it on Shabbat. However, a solution “acceptable” to all the parties is needed.

A submarine at a Thyssenkrupp facility in 2013.Credit: AFP

State commission of inquiry into the submarine affair:

This week, Defense Minister Benny Gantz submitted to the cabinet secretary a proposal to establish an official state commission of inquiry into the submarine scandal. Bennett and Gantz agreed to raise the matter for discussion next month. Gantz has spent the past few weeks recruiting a majority to back the commission and ensuring no pockets of opposition to such a decision exist within the coalition. Of course, opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu vehemently objects to the proposal.

The Draft Law and non-contributory pensions:

After loud arguments and great tension, the cabinet approved the new draft bill. During its passage, Gantz made its advancement contingent on increasing pension rights for the standing army. The vote was passed over the opposition of New Hope members and part of Labor and Meretz, which could very well hurt the laws’ chances of passing through the Knesset, because the coalition will need the votes of all its members to approve them. Moreover, Gantz intends later to advance a new, comprehensive draft plan.

The U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem in 2019.Credit: Ariel Schalit/AP

Reopening the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem:

Israel and the United States have discussed for several weeks the reopening of an American consulate in Jerusalem, which would serve the residents of East Jerusalem and the West Bank. It has been reported that the Americans, sensitive to the political fragility in Israel, withheld any such decision would until the budget passed. The Biden administration pressing for approval of the consulate’s reopening, but several coalition members are lobbying Bennett and Lapid to veto the request. Other coalition members deem stubbornness over the issue unnecessary.

Citizenship Law:

Shaked tried again recently to pass the emergency order of the law preventing across-the-board family reunification for Palestinians, with the opposition’s support. Despite her failed attempts, Shaked insists that the law be passed, and expects Meretz and the United Arab List to back a new version of the bill, even though these parties clearly oppose it. For now, Shaked has delayed all family reunification requests, maintaining the status quo.

Warrantless Search Law:

As part of the fight against crime in the Arab community, the cabinet approved an amendment to the law that would allow police to search homes without a court-approved warrant. Approval not only led to a left-right disagreement within the coalition but also disagreement within the blocs themselves. In Meretz, for example, Regional Cooperation Minister Esawi Freige supports advancing the law, while party chairman and Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz and Environmental Protection Minister Tamar Zandberg oppose it. Support from all coalition members will be needed for the Knesset to pass the bill.

The evacuation of the illegal outpost of Evyatar, July 2021.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Evyatar plan:

Bennett and Gantz reached an agreement with the former residents of the illegal outpost of Evyatar that the state would examine whether it could designate the northern West Bank land on which the outpost was built as state-owned, allowing renewed settlement there. However, Michaeli and Horowitz informed Bennett recently of their stiff opposition to reestablishing the outpost as well as a yeshiva at the site. Meanwhile, Shaked has declared the deal will be implemented to the letter.

Splitting the attorney general post:

A new attorney general is scheduled to be appointed in February to replace Avichai Mendelblit. Sa’ar has announced that during the Knesset’s winter session he will examine splitting the new attorney general’s job into two positions: attorney general and prosecutor general. The coalition parties have set up a committee to study the issue, but there are numerous disputes within the coalition on the issue.

Approval of construction for West Bank Palestinians and work permits:

Last month, some 2,200 housing units were approved for construction for Palestinians in Area C of the West Bank. Gantz plans to approve more units later. He also hopes to increase further the number of work permits issued to West Bank Palestinians working inside Israel. But Construction and Housing Minister Zeev Elkin and most rightist coalition members strongly oppose Palestinian construction.

The Western Wall agreement and Conversion Law:

Since being shelved in 2017, no alternative solution for the Western Wall agreement approved by the cabinet has been advanced. The issue is at the heart of disagreements with Diaspora Jewry, and between the various Jewish denominations inside Israel. Many have identified it as a cause of tension and alienation. The Labor Party, particularly MK Gilad Kariv, is promoting several alternatives with Bennett. Meanwhile, a new conversion law is expected to be brought up for debate, and some coalition members have already announced they wsill promote their own version of the law.

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