Knesset to Reconvene as Election Season Approaches

The Knesset session that opens Monday is a rarity: For the past 20 years no prime minister has managed to survive in office for a period as long as Netanyahu's.

The Knesset's winter session will open on Monday after an almost three-month break. The break caught MKs without a convenient platform to vent frustrations during major events on all fronts this summer and fall - the tent protest, clashes with the Palestinian Authority in the United Nations and the release of kidnapped solider Gilad Shalit.

However, some in the opposition seemed pleased the Knesset was out of session during this time. "Netanyahu could have used the Knesset to reduce the damage done to him during the tent protest and change the media agenda," an opposition lawmaker said.

Knesset - Michal Fattal - 28102011
Michal Fattal

Still, a Knesset at rest could be considered to have made Netanyahu's life easier - no votes of no confidence and a strong coalition that could continue its work without disruptions.

The Knesset session that opens Monday is a rarity: For the past 20 years no prime minister has managed to survive in office for a period as long as Netanyahu's. But in the coming months, the parties are to begin preparing for elections, which will significantly impact the government's work and the Knesset becoming the most complicated in Netanyahu's current term.

Elections are still scheduled for October 2013, but sources in both the coalition and the opposition say they believe they will take place sooner.

The Labor Party has already chosen its new chairwoman, and its clashing faction members are expected to try and cooperate in the upcoming session. Meretz will probably want to move up its internal elections to January. The next Likud Central Committee meeting is set for January and Kadima may also declare a date for its internal elections in the coming months.

The election mood is likely to make opinions more extreme among legislators and increase monetary demands by coalition partners. A source in the coalition pinpointed May as election time, after the prime minister ostensibly fails to pass the budget because of the monetary demands of his partners.

Key events could impact the Knesset's winter agenda. Netanyahu could face a crisis because of the Palestinian statehood bid, or, alternatively there could be a breakthrough on the diplomatic front; the coalition could teeter as it balances between the Trajtenberg Committee's socioeconomic recommendations and the demands of the various parties for socioeconomic reform. The state comptroller, Micha Lindenstrauss, could strike a blow against the government with the release, in a few weeks, of a stinging report on the Carmel fire.

MK Dalia Itzik, chairwoman of the Kadima Knesset faction, said on Thursday that one main issue would be her party's demand to replace the current budget with one that will respond to the demands of the social protest. "We want the government to negotiate with all relevant entities, including us, and formulate a new social contract," she said.

Popular areas of legislation this winter will include socioeconomic reform; bills designed to restrict the government in concluding deals to free abducted soldiers, informally known as "Gilad Shalit bills;" continued legislation on "loyalty" bills, led by Yisrael Beiteinu but with other parties jumping on the bandwagon; and bills designed to legalize construction in illegal outposts and make it difficult for the government to evacuate them.

Yisrael Beiteinu's faction head, MK Robert Ilatov, said the "loyalty" bills were "the banner of our party and we will not compromise," promising new bills on the matter.

One initiative on prisoner exchange is that of MK Uri Ariel (National Union ) that would determine an exchange ratio of one to one. MK Zeev Elkin (Likud ) would prohibit the release of prisoners under 45 and allow only prisoners over 60 to remain in the country. MK Danny Danon (Likud ) is working on a bill that would grant a "conditional pardon" that would be revoked if a freed prisoner returned to terrorism. However, one MK who has been studying the possibility of submitting a "Gilad Shalit bill" said the chances of such a bill passing were "slim for two reasons: The first is that the government will thwart them because no prime minister wants to be restricted in making foreign policy decisions. The second is that there is such a great gap among MKs' opinions on the subject."