Knesset Session That Wasn't Meant to Be Finally Ends

Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin declares the legislature would soon dissolve itself and prepare for general elections.

The Knesset's summer session, which ended on Wednesday, was never meant to get this far. Back in April, in his first address of the session, Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin declared that the legislature would soon dissolve itself and prepare for general elections.

"The entire country - opposition and coalition - agree that it would be best for the Knesset to go to elections, so that the next Knesset will be able to make decisions on some complex issues in our national life," Rivlin said.

No one expected that the late-night debates about dissolving the Knesset would, only a few days later, become irrelevant, due to the creation of a national unity government. No one knew that Kadima, which was sinking in the polls, would choose to team up with the Likud rather than face the voters.

That move, which turned the Netanyahu government into the largest and ostensibly most stable coalition in Israeli history, left a shrunken opposition of 26 MKs who were not particularly successful in irritating the regime. But the ambitious agenda formulated by the Likud and Kadima fell apart, leaving a very disappointing record of achievement: There is no replacement for the Tal Law, no changes were made to the electoral system and there was no progress in the peace process.

"This was a superfluous session," said the parliamentary aide of one of the more active MKs. "It was shallow. We didn't manage to advance anything significant."

Things looked different when the session opened. The debate on evacuating Migron and Beit El's Ulpana neighborhood was in the headlines, and right-wing MKs were planning a legislative revolution to try to prevent those expulsions. .

In the realm of welfare legislation, the "social legislation index," a product of an organization called the Social Guard, shows that for all the social protesting over the past year, MKs still don't find such issues exciting. On average, only 12 MKs cast votes on the social welfare bills that came to the plenum during the past three months. Not surprisingly, opposition MKs were ranked as leaders in promoting social legislation, while those MKs at the bottom of the list were from the coalition.

The five leading social legislators were Dov Khenin (Hadash ), Ilan Gilon (Meretz ), Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz ), Eitan Cabel (Labor ) and Raleb Majadele (Labor ).

At the bottom of the list were Meshulam Nahari (Shas ), Ayoob Kara (Likud ), Uzi Landau (Yisrael Beiteinu ), Lea Nass (Likud ) and Tzipi Hotovely (Likud ).

The Social Guard said its most worrying finding is the clear weakness of the Knesset compared to the undisputed power of the government. Social Guard co-founder Boaz Rakocz said, "Time after time, we have seen wonderful bills that the public definitely wants, but they are struck down at the most preliminary stages by the cabinet."

Still, some things did get done. The Social Guard named the Knesset's Labor, Welfare and Health Committee legislative champion out of all the Knesset committees. Since the current government took office, the committee has advanced 64 private-member bills, 49 government-backed bills, and approved 154 regulations. During the relatively short summer session, the committee managed to process 16 bills.

With MKs going off for their vacations, Rivlin is somewhat concerned. He noted that because last summer's tent protests began during the Knesset's summer recess, lawmakers had no opportunities to speak, pass laws or convene committees about the issue. The Knesset essentially became irrelevant during one of the most significant social crises of recent years.

But, insisted the Knesset speaker, the same thing will not happen again. "This year the Knesset is going to be relevant," he said. "We learned our lesson from last year. If the government submits a replacement for the Tal Law or any other initiative relating to the burning issues on the agenda, I will convene the Knesset immediately, even on a day's notice. Those MKs planning their vacations had better take that into account."