The Government Did Not Fall, the Reforms Did Not Pass

Normal but unusual. The Knesset winter session will be remembered less for what happened in it than for what did not happen - primarily the fact that the government did not fall. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has proven over and over again that if there is something he really knows how to do, it is keep a coalition together. The promised reforms in the system of government did not achieve a breakthrough in this Knesset session, either.

The opposition, for its part, did not even manage to embarrass the coalition, much less generate any pressure. Overall, it was a quiet and normal - and therefore unusual - winter session. No scandals, no criminal investigations. Perhaps one should not ask for more.

Green session. The Internal Affairs Committee notes contentedly that this was the Knesset's greenest session. The Coastal Environment Protection Law was extended to the Red Sea at the beginning of the session, and this week, it will be applied to the Kinneret as well. In addition, the Knesset approved changes in the traffic laws that allow local authorities to limit the entry of vehicles into their towns in order to minimize air pollution. Committee Chairman Ophir Pines-Paz (Labor) and MK Dov Khenin (Hadash) said they had hoped to bring the Clean Air Law to the plenum for a second and third reading this week, but a government ultimatum led to the vote being delayed for a month and a half. Nonetheless, it is looking like this Knesset will produce a generational leap forward in Israel's environmental legislation.

Lieberman will deal with them. The summer session was marked by proposals aimed at placing restrictions on Arab MKs and keeping them out of the Knesset. The winter session was marked by a further increase in incitement against Arab MKs. The primary reason for this was Yisrael Beiteinu Chairman Avigdor Lieberman's resignation from the coalition and his consequent need to adopt a position of "Lieberman will deal with them." Indeed, threats against Arab MKs along the lines of "We'll deal with you" and "We'll expel you" became a regular part of the Knesset agenda.

Was there a left? Perhaps even more important is that in the face of this incitement, "there was silence from the left," according to MK Ahmed Tibi (United Arab List-Ta'al). The truth is that while the right wing is organized, strong and violent, you have to make an effort to sense the left's presence in the Knesset. Those of a forgiving bent will explain this away by blaming the voters for sending a small, weak left to the Knesset. Tibi's only comfort is the knowledge that he succeeded in establishing a parliamentary committee of inquiry on the employment of Arabs in the civil service, the first time in the history of the Knesset that such a committee has focused on an Arab issue.

Reconciliation. The end of the session was marked by a major victory for those in the Knesset interested in dialogue. MK Otniel Schneller (Kadima) sponsored the brain death law, which makes it easier for religious Zionists and traditional Jews to donate their organs. And MK Michael Melchior (Labor) pushed through the preliminary reading of a bill to establish a joint religious-secular school system. Likud faction whip Gideon Sa'ar said most of the important proposals that passed this session were private member's bills, which raises the question of whether the government remembers that it is actually its job to initiate laws.

Mired reforms. No fewer than four reforms of the system of government were proposed by the Knesset this session. All of them got stuck or are expected to get stuck. The Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee is working feverishly to prepare a constitution. But very few Knesset members still believe that even a single clause of the constitution will be passed, because a government presiding over talks with the Palestinians cannot also push a constitution forward, and vice versa.

Past glories. Constitution Committee Chairman Menachem Ben-Sasson (Kadima) thought he had a deal on a package of changes to the system of government, including a law that gives the head of the largest party first chance at forming a government. But Shas, which at first agreed to the law, has since realized that it could cause many of its voters to switch to Likud, and has thus withdrawn its support.