The Knesset Bypassing the Knesset

The Knesset is giving up its authority as a serious institution that passes legislation after due consideration.

The Knesset will hold a special summer recess session that could mark a further decline on the scale of parliamentary respect. At stake is its identity as a legislative body that sets the rules of the game between governmental authorities and the individual and state. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wants to "own" the Knesset and get laws hastily and obediently passed by a legislature that simply tells him "we will do and we will obey." He won't keep quiet until his "vision" is realized in the plenum today with the passage of the so-called Mofaz bill, a recipe for splitting Knesset factions and damaging the parliamentary rules of the game. Those who remember Netanyahu's previous declarations about the need for stabilizing government will find it hard to believe what he is doing now.

Netanyahu's desire to immediately change the law so that a group of at least seven MKs can break away from a party, rather than the current minimum of one-third of a Knesset faction, forced the Knesset to debate the issue last week for 21 hours straight until it broke for summer recess. The debate, which featured songs and stories, testifies to the fact that the Knesset is giving up its authority as a serious institution that passes legislation after due consideration.

Today the sorry face of the Mofaz bill will be compounded by a vote on a bill reforming the Israel Lands Administration well before all aspects of the proposed changes in the ownership of state lands is sorted out. And they have implications on the Basic Law on Israel Lands, which has been forgotten in the heat of the reforms. Hasty legislation on such a significant and complicated subject turns the Knesset from a legislative institution into one that simply gives its stamp of approval, that says amen to government initiatives without determining the content of the "preliminary" arrangements, to use constitutional language.

The Knesset is going into recess - a long summer hibernation until "after the holidays" without holding an in-depth debate on the budgets of each government ministry. As always, the Knesset passed the Economic Arrangements Bill, which contains various reforms, by forgoing serious parliamentary debate. The fact that the prime minister spelled out his government's basic policies of recent months in his Bar-Ilan speech and at last week's address at the National Defense College and not in the Knesset paints Israel's parliament - to which the government reports - into a corner. Many serious MKs who spend hours in tedious work are entitled to different treatment from someone who is first among equals.

Not only does the prime minister hurt respect for the Knesset, the Knesset allows itself to be bypassed and removed from the governmental playing field. The elections to the 18th Knesset were held in February, but because of the Passover break, the Knesset only got to work in May, nine months after the last Knesset ceased business. The nearly three-month summer recess now beginning comes after only three months of work. Knesset members, including the new ones, zealously guard their vacations, when most of them take on the burden of trips abroad. Like their predecessors, the Knesset's current members have foiled efforts to shorten the recess.

Speaker Reuven Rivlin, who justifiably and zealously guards respect for the Knesset, has refrained from using his influence to lead a serious effort to shorten the recess, which could still be done. The 45 days until Rosh Hashanah could have been full work days, especially at a time when significant developments both at home and abroad could occur. The Knesset as a legislative body that provides significant and continuous oversight of the government is an authority that democratic society cannot do without. The Knesset isn't authorized to do without it either.