Turning Governability Into a Farce

Various bills - including some that are genuinely worthy - have turned into a tool which the coalition is wielding against the opposition.

Various bills - including some that are genuinely worthy, since they would enhance governability and thereby stabilize the system of government - have turned into a tool which the coalition is wielding against the opposition. The government is thereby turning the parliamentary game into a farce.

Taken altogether, these legislative proposals - which are notable for their personal character, as many are designed to create jobs for specific individuals whom the coalition wishes to promote - have pushed the opposition into a situation of "breaking the game pieces and refusing to play," a phenomenon virtually unheard of in other parliamentary democracies. Indeed, the passage, for the first time in the Knesset's history, of the annual budget bill's first reading by a majority of 61-0 violated the democratic tradition of stormy parliamentary debate, which expresses the vitality of the interplay of forces between majority and minority.

The fact that previous coalitions have also made inappropriate use of their power - as when one former government instantaneously repealed the limit on the number of ministers included in the Basic Law on the Government - offers no solace. Changes in the system of government ought to be implemented only in the following Knesset, in line with the principle that fundamental changes in the rules of the game cannot be made during the game itself, in response to passing needs.

The British cynically say that "the role of the opposition is to oppose" - and nothing more. But even this power would be undermined by the current coalition's proposals.

The legislation suggesting an increase in the majority needed to topple a government from 61 to 65 Knesset members would probably increase stability. Nevertheless, this change should take effect only in the next Knesset.

In contrast, a bill to allow a given number of MKs - as opposed to a fixed proportion of a Knesset faction - to break away from their existing party without forfeiting state funding and other benefits is nothing more than a bad joke. Its contribution to governmental stability is nil. And its political goal - enabling MK Shaul Mofaz of Kadima to quit his party and join Likud - demonstrates that in Israeli politics, anything is possible.

The bill's proponents ought to recall the High Court of Justice ruling that overturned a law to legalize two pirate radio stations. The purpose of that legislation, which would have legalized any station that had broken the law against pirate broadcasts for at least five years, was to legalize the Arutz Sheva station plus another station affiliated with Shas. But the bitter taste of "personal legislation" discredits any law.

The proposal to enact a limited version of the so-called "Norwegian Law" stems from the coalition's desire to allow Nissan Slomiansky to enter the Knesset on behalf of Habayit Hayehudi, by enabling Science and Technology Minister Daniel Hershkowitz, who headed that party's list, to resign from the Knesset, but also return to it should he cease to serve as a minister. Limiting this right to a single minister, rather than extending it to all ministers, thwarts what might otherwise be a good idea.

In a relatively small parliament of 120 members - one-quarter of whom are either ministers or deputy ministers, and thus excluded from activity in the parliament because of its role as overseer of the executive - adoption of the Norwegian Law should not be ruled out. Nevertheless, no serious treatment of this issue would justify the "Slomiansky Law" - which would enable only one minister, from a single parliamentary faction, to resign from the cabinet while still maintaining his right to return to the Knesset.

The government's entire package of proposals requires serious study. But any bill found worthy of enactment should take effect only in the next Knesset, as was done when direct elections of the prime minister were instituted. Dialogue between coalition and opposition could also at least reduce the scope of the Economic Arrangements Law accompanying the budget, which humiliates the Knesset.

The High Court recently criticized the Arrangements Law, but did not view itself as "the appropriate forum" to intervene. And indeed, the appropriate forum is the Knesset itself - coalition and opposition alike.