Israeli Social Turmoil Set to Arrive at Knesset as Winter Session Begins

One senior Likud party official tells Haaretz the party would use the Trajtenberg report to shape an economic policy that would appeal to the voters and would be difficult for the opposition to fault.

Knesset members will be returning to the parliament from their summer recess today to a winter session expected to focus on social welfare issues, as both the government and the opposition seek popular support in the run-up to the next election.

One test of strength facing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is his ability to get Knesset approval for the recommendations issued by the government-appointed Trajtenberg committee on socioeconomic policy.

rotschild boulevard tent city - Oren ZIv
Oren Ziv

One senior Likud party official told Haaretz the party would use the Trajtenberg report to shape an economic policy that would appeal to the voters and would be difficult for the opposition to fault.

"The only question is whether the public will give credit for the benefits it receives to us [Likud], to the government, or actually to the leaders of the protest movement," the party official said, referring to the summer's mass protests against the high cost of housing, food and other goods.

Likud MKs are considering whether to propose the Trajtenberg recommendations as a single package or to introduce each piece of legislation individually, and the House Committee is also expected to weigh in on the issue.

Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin, a Likud MK, has said he opposes lumping all the recommendations together and will work to have each bill proposed separately to enable legislators to vote against any bills they oppose.

One Likud leader said a separate vote for each bill would make it easier to pass the populist bills that directly benefit the public, and that the structural changes recommended by the Trajtenberg committee should be proposed only afterward.

Other sources said it would be difficult to get all the parties in the governing coalition to support the Trajtenberg recommendations. For that reason, officials close to the prime minister are exploring the option of pressing first for passage of taxation legislation, around which a consensus exists.

Netanyahu has already suffered a setback in his earlier attempt to get cabinet approval for the Trajtenberg recommendations.

Yisrael Beiteinu initially balked, claiming that its cabinet members had not had time to read the committee's report, and later sought concessions in return for the party's support. The Atzmaut party, which is headed by Defense Minister Ehud Barak, initially objected to the proposed cuts to the defense budget, and Shas said the recommendations didn't adequately address the needs of weaker segments of society.

When the legislation reaches the Knesset for a vote, these disagreements will be even more intense. By splitting the package of legislation into individual bills, it will become easier to diffuse objections and ensure the support of coalition partners, one Likud source said.

In one form or another, almost all the parties in the Knesset are expected to embrace a social justice agenda in the winter session. Opposition parties have said they intend to introduce legislation that would complement the government-sponsored bills and is not included in the Trajtenberg recommendations.

Kadima will demand the repeal of the 2012 budget, which was passed last year as part of a two-year state budget, and call for a pact on social welfare issues.

But overall, said one Likud MK, Kadima chairwoman Tzipi Livni is wary of facing the electorate right now because Kadima has lagged behind Labor in the polls since Shelly Yachimovich, who championed the social agenda, was elected to lead the Labor Party.