After the Knesset opposition announced on Sunday that it will boycott this week`s debates and votes on three of the government`s flagship bills, Knesset Speaker Yuli-Yoel Edelstein convinced Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Coalition Chairman MK Yariv Levin (Likud-Yisrael Beitenu) to accept an additional day of debates on Thursday instead of the current, three-day schedule for discussion and voting on bills to change military draft requirements for the ultra-Orthodox, require a referendum on any land transfers in a peace deal, and raise the bar for admission of parties to the Knesset.
However, Opposition leader MK Isaac Herzog (Israel Labor Party) said on Monday that the compromise proposal was ”too little, too late.”
After opposition factions failed to show up for Monday morning`s debate on the governance law, Speaker Edelstein said the coalition intends to keep to the schedule set by the House Committee last week, and the three bills are scheduled to be voted on one after the other in marathon sessions between Monday morning and Thursday at 2 am. The governance law is due to be debated on Monday from 11 am and be voted on at 10 am Tuesday. Debate on the military draft bill is due to begin Tuesday at 11 am, with the vote taking place Wednesday at 10 am. Debate on the referendum bill is slated to begin Wednesday and continue until the vote is taken at 2 am Thursday.
”It is okay to argue and say harsh things, but they should be said here, in the plenum,” Speaker Edelstein said as he kicked off the debate on the governance bill. ”This is what we get paid for.”
The proposed laws, up for their final votes, are the governance law, which raises the electoral threshold to 3.25%; the law to draft ultra-Orthodox Jews into the military; and the law requiring that withdrawal from Israeli-held territory must first be approved in a referendum.
The opposition decided on the boycott after the Knesset House Committee allowed the coalition to set a time limit on the plenary debates on the bills, thus barring the possibility of a filibuster. It is also protesting the agreement drafted by the coalition which would bind all of its members to vote in bulk in favor of the bills.
Before learning that the opposition had rejected his compromise offer, Speaker Edelstein said ”I`m glad the coalition decided to step down and expect the opposition to do the same. There is no place for boycotts in the Knesset. Boycotting the plenum is boycotting democracy. Therefore, I insisted on pressing the coalition and prime minister to compromise.”
Coalition Chairman Levin said the alternative debate held Monday morning by the opposition in the Knesset`s Negev Hall constituted a ”severe blow to Israeli democracy,” adding that ”if there is one thing you cannot say about this opposition is that it is united…The alternative gathering of the opposition paves the way to places I do not want to think of.”
During Monday`s plenary debate, MK David Rotem (Likud-Yisrael Beitenu), one of the initiators of the governance bill, said the proposed law would result in a smaller and ”more efficient” government that would be able to advance its policies without fear of ”no confidence maneuvers that do not reflect a worthy reason for a regime change.”
Apart from raising the threshold for a party to enter the Knesset from the current 2% of the total vote to 3.25%, the bill also aims to limit the number of ministers to 18 (not including the PM) and the number of deputy ministers to four. However, the government will be able to appoint additional ministers if at least 70 Knesset members support the move. The proposed law would also make it more difficult to topple the government by requiring a majority of 61 MKs to pass a no-confidence motion and an alternative candidate for prime minister. The proposed law would also make it harder for Knesset factions to split and extend the amount of time a new government has to pass a budget from 45 to 100 days.
MK Rotem, who chairs the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, said the Knesset`s work would improve as a result of the law because parliament would consist of larger factions that have the support of larger segments of society.
He said raising the electoral threshold would prevent a situation whereby ”every extreme opinion or interest of a niche group would be represented in parliament.”
”People will have to tone down their opinions and reach political compromises in order to form a larger party that will wield greater political power,” he stated. ”Raising the electoral threshold will reduce the number of players in the political system and reduce the fragmentation of the parliament. This will soften the disputes between the political players.”
Finance Minister Yair Lapid, who heads the Yesh Atid Party, noted that Labor leader Herzog spoke in favor of raising the electoral threshold. According to Lapid, Herzog explained that the current threshold ”hurts the stability of the government and undermines the political system in Israel.”
Lapid said Meretz Chairwoman Zahava Gal-On also suggested raising the electoral threshold because a low threshold ”encourages transient factions and hurts the ability to govern.”
MK Ronen Hoffman, also of Yesh Atid, said many opposition members have suggested raising the electoral threshold ”on numerous occasions.” Hoffman, one of the bill`s initiators, called the legislation ”balanced” and noted that is also cancels the ”disgraceful” minister-without-portfolio position. The opposition members oppose the bill, he said, because ”they do not want someone else to get the credit for it.”
MK Amram Mitzna (Hatenua) on the other hand, said the proposed law would not improve governance. ”What does governance have to do with limiting the ability of small groups to be represented in the Knesset? Governance, as I see it and as Yesh Atid promised in its party platform, is first and foremost about the head of the largest party forming the coalition,” Mitzna said. ”Where did this clause disappear to?”
”The law we are approving today has nothing to do with governance. There is no restriction on the government, which can pass any law it wants or vote down any law it does not want,” the MK added. ”The real problem is within the coalition and within the parties themselves. They do not broadcast with the same voice and try to foil each other`s moves. This law is meant to limit the presence of Arab parties in the Knesset, and this is a grave mistake.”