Hours before the Knesset closed for recess on Monday, key bills that would have advanced construction of the Tel Aviv metro system and inclusion of Israel in the US visa waiver program were shelved, negotiations between the coalition and the opposition having failed.
“They will not be discussed because there is no agreement [à leur sujet] said coalition chairman spokesman Boaz Toporovsky, who took part in negotiations with the Likud-led opposition.
Over the past two weeks, coalition and opposition negotiators have been engaged in an uphill battle, seeking to hammer out deals on the final pieces of legislation to be passed before elections to the 24th Knesset are held, and s mutually imposing constraints on other bills.
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While it is possible to pass bills during recess, opposition support to bring them to plenary is required during recess – blocking their passage until a 25th Knesset be established.
Last Thursday, the Knesset voted to dissolve and called elections – the fifth in less than four years in Israel – for November 1.
The move came after three months of political turmoil, culminating in the June 20 announcement by then-Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and his successor, Yair Lapid, that they had “exhausted their ability to stabilize the coalition and would dissolve their own government.
After Thursday’s dissolution vote, the plenary session continued, and MPs moved forward and in some cases passed around 40 last-minute bills. Due to lack of time to deal with all the pending laws, they returned on Monday for a final plenary session – but the coalition and the opposition failed to agree on the metro law and the legislation regarding the US Visa Waiver Program. The House Committee also met on Monday, and officially declared the Knesset in recess from Tuesday.
Only two bills were sent to the plenum on Monday, and they both passed first reading as the feuding political blocs agreed on the bills.
The first piece of legislation put forward by MPs at first reading would allow GPS monitoring to ensure domestic abusers are complying with restraining orders, and is expected to apply to around 1,600 abusers, according to an assessment by the Department of Homeland Security dating from December.
About 10,000 requests for restraining orders are filed each year, 90% of which are approved, according to the Knesset Research Service. Although no data is currently available on the number of violations of restraining orders, an average of 600 non-compliance complaints are filed each year, the majority by female victims.
The second bill advanced in the assembly on Monday would mandate the use of CCTV when police use water cannons to disperse crowds, in part to provide evidence in civil lawsuits against police for damages.
Although the plenum is in recess, the passage of the bills at first reading is important in two respects. First of all, once the hurdle of the first reading has been crossed, the Continuity Clause is triggered. Under this clause, bills that pass the first reading before a Knesset dissolves are frozen in time, legislatively speaking, and can be resumed later in the next Knesset. This can cut months or even years off the legislative process.
Second, on Monday, the Knesset House Committee released the criteria for passing laws during recess. If the government or 25 parliamentarians want to convene the plenum, they can. But only bills approved by the Agreements Committee – which will be made up of Mr. Toporovsky, chairman of the coalition, and an elected opposition member who has not yet been named – will be put to the vote.
The bill that would allow Israel to be included in the US visa waiver program has not yet passed its first reading, unlike the subway bill.
After many exchanges, the deputies finally abandoned the vote on the cancellation of two very controversial decrees of the Minister of Finance Avigdor Liberman and the Minister of Agriculture Oded Forer. These decrees, aimed at gradually reducing customs duties on imported fruits and vegetables, had been presented by Liberman as measures that would help reduce the cost of living. The agricultural lobby, meanwhile, claimed that the resulting competition would hurt domestic producers and threaten Israel’s ability to control its own food supply.
On Monday, Liberman called the fruit and vegetable tariff cancellation orders “a real test for anyone talking about the cost of living” and said that anyone who “votes to cancel the decrees drives up prices”.
According to the finance minister, talks with farmers were held on Monday morning, along with Mr. Forer, also a member of Yisrael Beytenu, who pushed for the reform of agricultural imports. A Forer spokesperson said an agreement to increase the current order was finally reached, resulting in the withdrawal of the void vote early in the evening, but did not disclose details.
Mr. Liberman has also openly championed passage of the Metro Bill, which would launch Israel’s largest mass transit infrastructure project.
“I think it’s a big mistake not to address the metro law. This is the wrong message, this is the message that politics comes before citizens, that politics comes before material considerations in favor of the economy,” the finance minister said at a faction meeting of his party in the Knesset.
He thus echoed Toporovsky, who wrote a letter to Likud negotiator MK Yariv Levin on Sunday arguing in favor of the subway bill.
“It’s not too late,” wrote Toporovsky, according to the daily Israel Hayom. “We have four months of campaigning where we will argue and face each other, but it is important that we can unite just before, for the good of the public who elected us all, including you, for future generations, for the relief of citizens, without any political gain or credit. »
Tel Aviv and its surroundings suffer from annoying traffic jams, which are only expected to get worse with the rapid growth of the Israeli population. Experts cite public transport as the main solution to reduce frustration on the roads.
The election campaign has already started slowly, especially in Likud, which expects to have a primary in early August. The subway bill is closely associated with Transport Minister Merav Michaeli, leader of the Labor Party, as well as Liberman – both fiercely opposed to the Likud-led camp. So the subway bill became a political football tossed between the rivals.
A spokesman for Levin said there was “no reason to give them the subway” as the coalition overrode the opposition to advance their preferred election date last Thursday.
“Last week, before the dissolution of the Knesset, we offered the subway law in exchange for an election date of October 25, but they refused and set November 1, so we didn’t no reason to give them the metro,” the spokesperson told the Times of Israel.
Likud has also maintained its opposition to the passage of the visa waiver bill, despite the unusual interference from the United States.
Last week, US Ambassador Tom Nides delivered messages to Likud leaders asking them to unblock the bill, and publicly tweeted an urge to lawmakers not to “give up in full swing.”
I’ve been working around the clock since I arrived to help Israel meet all the requirements to join the #VisaWaiverProgram. Don’t lose momentum now. This will help Israeli citizens travel to the US – put them first!
— Ambassador Tom Nides (@USAmbIsrael) June 28, 2022
Nides made the calls on the eve of US President Joe Biden’s visit to Israel, scheduled in less than two weeks. As election campaigns heat up, the opposition is not happy that its main electoral rival – Lapid – receives Biden as prime minister. The bill’s blockage is embarrassing not only for Lapid, but also for Home Secretary Ayelet Shaked, who is competing with opposition parties for right-wing votes.
“About visas, there are more fundamental issues, about permits and things that are in the law and that we oppose on principle,” Levin’s spokesperson said.
Last week, a spokesman for Yoav Kisch, the other Likud negotiator, said the party wanted to subject the bill to a longer review process, due to questions about information sharing and relaxation of screening procedures for American Palestinians transiting through Israel.