Thursday, March 13, 2014

Legislative activity

Three important bills currently being debated in the Knesset represent the Government coalition's main legislative thrust and when passed will significantly affect Israel domestically. The three Bills are those on the threshold of parties to be represented in the Knesset, haredi enlistment in the IDF and a referendum of the Israeli public for any agreement with the Palestinians especially to approve any transfer of sovereign Israeli territory.

The first of these has already passed the Knesset by a wide margin and requires that the threshold for a party to be given representation in the Knesset rises from 2% to 3.25%. The final number agreed is a compromise between those who wanted it to rise to 3% and those to 4%. What will happen as a result of this law is that some small parties that have been active in Israeli politics and have had greater influence than their numbers would merit will no longer be able to enter the Knesset. These include small religious parties, the far left parties (such as Meretz) and the Arab parties. Although some predict this will be a net loss for the Arabs, this may not be the the case, since in the current Knesset there are three Arab parties with 12 total MKs, including the communists, but if they united then they might have up to 15 MKs. So the future effects on Israeli politics are as yet uncertain.

The second bill on haredi enlistment in the IDF is perhaps the most important of the three and it has been a major issue of debate in Israel for the past few months. Last week there was a huge gathering of haredi men at the entrance of Jerusalem for a prayer meeting, rather than a demonstration, that brought Jerusalem to a stand-still. Yet the fact that there was no violence and little political rhetoric was interpreted to mean that the haredi parties, although they oppose treating haredim and yeshiva students like the rest of the population, nevertheless have recognized that the compromise arrived at in the Knesset is probably the best they can expect. For the time being, while all 18 year old must register for the draft, yeshiva students will be deferred for up to three years. But, if they don't register they will be subject to financial losses that includes reduction of Government payments to them personally and to their Yeshiva. As yet no criminal charges are being levelled against the haredim. The Bill passed even though the religious parties and the Labor opposition boycotted it. Only one coalition MK voted against the Bill.

The referendum law will require specific public support for any major concessions to the Palestinians in any possible peace agreement. Although no such agreement seems to be currently in the offing, the right wing wanted this referendum law in place in case of any future territorial concessions that they oppose. PM Netanyahu has accepted the need for such a law, not only to satisfy his right wing, but also to ensure that the Israeli public is behind any potential agreement, thus avoiding future internal conflict. The passing of these three laws is a success for PM Netanyahu in not only holding his coalition together, but also in achieving real change in domestic Israeli politics.


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