This week the Knesset hosted the sixth annual meeting of OECD Parliamentary Budget Officials (PBO) and Independent Fiscal Institutions, which focused on the need to promote parliamentary and public supervision over the preparation and approval of budgets, as well as on the need to increase transparency in this regard.
Knesset Speaker Yuli-Yoel Edelstein told the conference that democracy in Israel should not be taken for granted considering the myriad difficulties and threats facing the country.
The Speaker told the dozens of representatives from some 30 parliaments around the world that in light of Israel`s unique situation there could have been calls for a ”strong leader” that could deal with the threats facing the country without checks and balances. However, he said, Israel has been a parliamentary democracy since its inception, with a strong opposition constantly scrutinizing the government`s work.
On Sunday the Finance Committee approved the allocation of NIS 703.3 million to the Prime Minister`s Office, including NIS 177.2 million to the World Zionist Organization’s Settlement Division, the government’s operational arm in construction and infrastructure in the West Bank and inside the Green Line.
Also this week, Knesset employees belonging to the Spokesperson`s Office began holding seminars for immigrant youth attending the Israel Goldstein Youth Village in Jerusalem. The seminars, which focus on civics in the State of Israel, are held for teenagers who made Aliyah from France, Morocco and former Soviet republics.
On Wednesday, the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, the Labor, Welfare and Health Committee and the Finance Ministry held a joint meeting to discuss the Foreign Ministry strike that closed embassies abroad and prevented high-profile visits both to and from Israel. The strike ended Wednesday evening as the Treasury and ministry’s workers committee signed a labor agreement.
During the meeting, a representative of the ministry’s workers committee slammed the Treasury for refusing to pay the striking employees during the strike. MK Meir Sheetrit (Hatenua) said the cost of the strike has exceeded the cost of the accepting the demands of the Foreign Ministry`s employees. ”If I were the Finance Minister, I would have signed, on the first day of the strike, a check for NIS 30 million, which covers the employees` demands,” he said.
MK Michal Biran (Israel Labor Party) also criticized the Treasury for not paying the employees during the strike. ”A strike is a legitimate tool, and it is not efficient if it is not disruptive. The Treasury`s insistence not to pay the workers is a violent act aimed at denying the workers their right to go on strike. Don`t be petty.”
The strike was the culmination of a labor dispute that stretched back to the beginning of 2013 over salaries and work conditions for diplomats serving at the ministry in Jerusalem and abroad.
On Tuesday dozens of 10th graders from the youth village arrived at the Knesset to attend their first seminar on the Knesset`s work.
Knesset Director-General Ronen Plot said, ”There is nothing more appropriate than having Knesset employees, who experience Israeli democracy on a daily basis, assist an educational institution such as the Israel Goldstein Youth Village, which helps in the absorption of young olim from many countries and prepares them for life in the State of Israel. I hope their meetings with the Knesset spokespeople will expand their knowledge on the Knesset, democracy and society in Israel.”
On Wednesday Speaker Edelstein met with members of the Friends of Israel Initiative, which includes such prominent figures as former Prime Minister of Spain José Maria Aznar, former President of Peru Alejandro Toledo, former German Minister of Defense Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, the first President of the Czech Republic Václav Havel and former US Ambassador to the UN John R. Bolton.
Edelstein told the high-level group Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas` decision to sign the applications for joining the 15 international organizations and treaties was an ”outrageous violation of the basic agreement” that renewed the peace negotiations.
The Palestinians, he noted, agreed not to take any unilateral steps to achieve international recognition during the nine months of talks US Secretary of State John Kerry jumpstarted in July.
”(Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu was prepared to move forward, but the Palestinians made their position clear yesterday,” Edelstein said, adding that Israel was ”prepared to pay a very heavy price; and not everyone was sure this was the right decision – to pay the price of the release of terrorists.”