The Knesset's Winter Battles: Gas, Budgets and Executive Pay

Israel's cabinet ministers and Knesset members had a relatively peaceful few weeks, shaking hands at party events and raising toasts to the new year. But soon enough they'll be doffing their holiday suits and donning their scabbards as the Knesset's winter session begins. No more smiles and clinking glasses: They'll be out for blood as they battle over budgets, prestige and power.

It's going to be a hot winter in the Knesset as the parliamentarians fight tooth and claw over the 2011-2012 budget. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz will, as usual, have to use the government's "petty cash" to win the votes of recalcitrant coalition members. Government sources say shoving the budget and its accompanying Economic Arrangements Law through the Knesset may cost as much as NIS 2 billion from that kitty.

While it's anybody's guess what hungry rabbits the MKs will pull out of their hats, some issues can be clearly marked.

Fight for the Economics C'tee

In the ring: the committee's current chairman, Ophir Akunis (Likud ), and his theoretical successor, Carmel Shama (Likud ). Under the agreement struck at the start of this government, Shama is to replace Akunis on November 1. Likud sources say Akunis is balking and Shama is insisting. Their fight involves mutual accusations and insults, not to mention lobbying among MKs.

Netanyahu is supposed to name the winner. But he may feel he has enough problems to handle such as the negotiations with the Palestinians and pushing through the budget.

The gas royalties

This battle pits Steinitz and a group of MKs including Shama and Shelly Yachimovich (Labor ) against Yisrael Beiteinu, gas baron Yitzhak Tshuva and his allies in business. Steinitz and his team want to increase royalties, Tshuva and the others object.

Steinitz is waiting for the committee headed by Eytan Sheshinski to deliver its recommendations on royalties from national resources, after which Steinitz is supposed to propose legislation. Tshuva's team has been lobbying hard against changing the law.

Knesset sources whisper that the ministerial committee on legislation could emasculate Steinitz's proposal by demanding a special ministerial committee after the Sheshinski committee. Even if the ministerial committee on legislation accepts Steinitz's proposals, the battle passes to the Knesset. There Yisrael Beiteinu has already vowed its opposition, which it explains is because Infrastructure Minister Uzi Landau (Yisrael Beiteinu ) opposes change. Shas is on the fence.

Probably, despite the lobbyists, a majority of the fence-sitters will support an amendment - with reservations. In other words, a compromise will be reached.

The budget battle

In the ring: Knesset speaker Reuven Rivlin against Steinitz.

Rivlin may balk and refuse to allow voting on the Economic Arrangements Bill as is. He says it's too crammed with elements that have no direct bearing on the budget or economic policy. Negotiations between the Knesset's legal counsel Eyal Yinon and Finance Ministry budget director Udi Nissan went nowhere.

At a recent meeting with Likud MKs, Steinitz learned that four plan to vote against the budget if the government doesn't resume construction in the settlements. While Netanyahu might persuade the left to support the budget if the building freeze continues, this might not be enough to get the budget through the Knesset. If the budget isn't approved by March 31, the Knesset has to disband and new elections have to be held.

Standard time - and arguments

Interior Minister Eli Yishai is pitted against a group of MKs headed by Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz ) and Ronit Tirosh (Kadima ), who think the shift from daylight saving time to standard time was ludicrously early. Religious MKs insisted on the shift ostensibly to make the Yom Kippur fast easier by ending an hour earlier. Opponents argued that the fast would last 25 hours anyway and it's supposed to be onerous.

This year the deal is done because the issue of the summer-winter clock has been legislated, but as the winter session begins, a number of private member bills are expected to be raised that would extend daylight saving time. They argue that extending the "summer clock" will save the economy hundreds of millions of shekels a year.

Unless the coalition backs the private member bills, they're unlikely to pass. MK Dalia Izik's (Kadima ) idea of swinging the clock back and forth (returning to daylight saving time after Yom Kippur, until the end of October ) is considered equally unlikely.

Executive pay caps

A ministerial committee headed by Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman is expected to butt heads with Yachimovich and Haim Katz (Likud ).

The Neeman committee, which includes Steinitz, Industry Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer and Eugene Kandel, economic adviser to the government, is expected to recommend against legislating pay caps for executives at public companies. Yachimovich and Katz want legislation. The committee might, however, suggest closer supervision of pay practices. If the committee has nothing practical to suggest, Yachimovich and Katz may resume their legislative drive.