August 2012 Summary of Summer Session – the 18th Knesset

CPC – the Center for Policy Change at Shatil

In terms of profit and loss, the biggest loser of the Knesset's summer session is the Prime Minister. At the beginning of the session, 38% of the public viewed Netanyahu’s performance favorably; by its end that figure dropped to 17%. The session began with an announcement of elections. That was when Netanyahu was at the height of his power, and it seemed that he would succeed in avoiding making a decision on the majority of issues lying before him: the Tal Law, the State Budget, the system of government, and the evacuation of the Ulpana. But Netanyahu decided to carry out "a brilliant political maneuver" (as labeled by the commentators in the first two days, before it turned into a farce) and join up with Shaul Mofaz in a broad unity government that was supposed to recruit the ultra-Orthodox, change the system of government, pass a pared down budget, and move forward toward a political solution. In the last session "the veil was lifted". Netanyahu's true wishes in the economic, political and civil spheres were revealed. The Prime Minister chose his natural partners – the ultra-Orthodox – at the expense of the demands of the majority of Israelis, who testify in every survey (75% support) that they view the recruitment of the ultra-Orthodox as essential. In the economic sphere, it clearly emerged that Netanyahu is not aiming for "social justice". He is aiming for budgetary cuts that place a further burden on the

shoulders of the middle class, rather than carrying out reforms in the profitable businesses of the military, the bureaucracy, the settlements and the pressure groups, the very wealthiest and the tycoons. This has almost completely dissolved the Trajtenberg Report and the relatively “parve” reports in the fields of food and centralization. It has strengthened the argument, among various groups, that the Prime Minister is following an anti-social agenda, and has seriously undermined Netanyahu's position. “Kadima” – backwards. Another significant incident revolves around the head of the opposition, Shaul Mofaz, who, by joining the ruling coalition, caused unimaginable damage to his already problematic public image. Mofaz did not really succeed in repairing this damage even after departing from the government. Kadima was a political corpse for most of the 18th Knesset, but only under Mofaz did it descend into almost certain decomposition. Today it comprises fragments of factions and federations of different groups which, when the time arises, will go in almost completely opposite directions: The Tzachi Hanegbi group, including (potentially): Dichter, Edery, Bielski, Schneller, Bibi, Samuelov-Berkovitz, Avital, Duan and Zellner (9); the Tzipi Livni / Haim Ramon group: Yoel Hasson, Nachman Shai, Molla, Tiviaev, Adatto, Zuaretz and Abesadze (8); and another unclear and non-homogeneous group: Mofaz, Itzik, Bar-On, Sheetrit, Avraham, Solodkin, Tirosh, Plasner, Hermesh, Yisrael Hasson, Akram Hason (11). To the outside observer, and to the dozens of commentators around us, it appears that Kadima is on the verge of total dissolution and its votes will go to other parties: the Likud, Yisrael Beitenu, Labor, Meretz, Yair Lapid and Tzipi Livni. Does the possible breakup of Kadima mark a convergence into party blocs? Not necessarily. The right as a bloc is currently relatively stable, with the possibility of a merger between Habayit Hayehudi and Ichud Leumi (currently 7 mandates together). The Likud has been alternately weakened and strengthened, but polls indicate a decline (35 mandates in March this year, against 28 at the end of the session), while Yisrael Beitenu remains with the same number of mandates.

Many parties are clustered in the center and left – Labor, Livni, Lapid, Meretz, the fragments of Kadima and the protest people. It is possible that the different parties will join together and form an "anti-Bibi” bloc. According to the surveys, a party merging Lapid and Livni could perhaps collect 25-30 mandates and become the largest party in the Knesset. If there were to be an “inclusive” merger (unlikely) between Lapid – Livni – Yachimovich this could push Lieberman into joining ranks with Netanyahu and result in the left-right blocs remembered from the 1970s and 80s.

The Plasner Committee, convened so festively, dissolved after endless zigzags by the Prime Minister and the Likud without any agreement or achievement, at least not officially. A personal achievement is credited to Yohanan Plasner, who is seen by the public as a responsible individual who did not fall into the media festival surrounding the committee, and remained loyal to the task he was asked to perform. Plasner invited representatives of different populations to speak before the commission, and read dozens of papers and recommendations. He did not enjoy the sweeping cooperation of any of relevant party. Another issue that came up on the agenda in a significant way was a redefinition of issues pertaining to the West Bank. The session began with a discussion of the Outpost Bill, which aimed to circumvent the High Court decision to evacuate Ulpana Hill. Because of Kadima's entry into the coalition, with the possibility for political maneuvering and the threat of segmentation, Netanyahu was able to stop the bill – which brought with it stormy arguments in the Likud, but then fell with minimal opposition and resulted in the Ulpana's evacuation by consent. It should just be mentioned that the compensation for relocating the Ulpana will cost the citizens of Israel the construction of 813 new housing units. Not the final price. A new report submitted by retired Supreme Court Justice Edmund Levy also stated that settlement in Judea and Samaria is legal and that the outposts scattered across the area should be regulated. This produced stormy reactions in the political arena on both sides of the spectrum. The report represented a "right

wing" answer to the Outposts Report by attorney Talya Sasson during her work for the State Attorney's Office. The State Attorney had a summer session that will not quickly be forgotten, thanks to a number of measures and events: the Edmund Levy report, the acquittal of former Prime Minister Olmert, and the continued rapid progress of the law calling for the establishment of an oversight body for the State Attorney's Office. These are significant issues for the State Attorney’s Office in terms of its authority and its ability to operate free of political threats, the damage to its public image, and the public's trust in it. Apart from the attack on the State Attorney, the trend towards weakening the State oversight institutions continued. The previous State Comptroller, Micha Lindenstrauss, who was a very dominant figure, was replaced by Yosef Shapira, a retired District Court judge, chosen as an “easy” comptroller (however, we cannot know for certain regarding his character). His selection was accompanied by a personal push from the Prime Minister and an ongoing struggle by the coalition to secure his appointment. In addition, and as part of the weakening of the state oversight bodies, MK Uri Ariel (Ichud Leumi) was appointed to head the State Audit Committee despite the fact that he clearly represents the right-wing parties, and has frequently supported the coalition in the past – instead of MK Ronny Bar-On (Kadima). In terms of parliamentary activity, the past session ended with very little social legislation, and major social issues such as housing, employment, taxation and health were barely promoted. Despite the social protest and the various groups that continue to act, no significant steps were taken in the field of welfare. Even with regard to public housing, which enjoyed renewed and lively public debate following the suicides of Moshe Silman and Akiva Mofi’i, there was no meaningful discussion of the subject. Legislation aimed at increasing rent assistance, changing the criteria for entitlement to housing, and establishing a parliamentary commission of enquiry into the disappearance of monies earmarked for public housing was also rejected out of hand.

At the same time, the trend of "classic" anti-democratic legislation did not leave its mark on the current session. There are several reasons for this – a great deal of work by human rights and advocacy organizations, international pressure, and mainly an internal focus of the right-wing parties and preparations for possible elections. On the other hand, the session was saturated with racist statements by right wing members of the Knesset against asylum seekers from Africa, with feeble condemnation from other elected officials. These statements accompanied draft bills that have not yet passed, trying to harm those helping the asylum seekers and those giving them assistance. Legislation prohibiting the employment of asylum seekers has been promoted. Representatives of the police have come out against this legislation, which represents a real push of asylum seekers into crime, because how else will they survive, what will they eat? But, as noted, they did not succeed. Other legislation relates to their property rights, and aims to prohibit asylum seekers from taking money out of the country.

According to Knesset Speaker Ruby Rivlin, and to a prevailing assessment nowadays, the Knesset will dissolve and go to elections with the start of the winter session in mid-October. The Prime Minister is looking at such high hurdles, and it appears that in his present situation vis-à-vis the coalition, he will not try to pass a new 2013 budget. He may prefer to create the quickest possible flare-up in order to prevent the center-left forces from organizing and joining up against him, and go for elections at the beginning of next year. This assessment should, of course, be accompanied by many reservations, such as the social protest and its future, Iran, the elections in the United States and their results, and the significance of the new situation without the Tal Law.

CPC – the Center for Policy Change at Shatil

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