Knesset sleuth’s round-up: the dropped conversion bill; natural gas non-drama; Michael Oren’s return
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of 2015 is no longer King Bibi, as he used to be portrayed in the global press. Instead, he is the prince of zigzagging.
Nine months ago, Netanyahu and all his government ministers (except for Uri Ariel) voted for the conversion reform bill as proposed by Elazar Stern (who is no longer a member of Knesset). It was decided at the time that the issue would not be turned over for legislation. Instead, it would be decided by the government so as to sidestep political snags. It was Jewish Home, led by Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked, that pushed and applied pressure to bypass the Knesset and the legislative process.
Netanyahu abolished that decision Sunday by voting with the Haredi factions that make up the coalition. Bennett and Shaked pretended to oppose it, saying in press statements that they were against the government’s decision. But in reality, they helped make it happen — both in the coalition agreements that they signed and by pushing to make the issue subject to government approval rather than the legislative process nine months ago.
The list of prime ministerial zigzags is growing longer. There is the zero value-added tax bill, which Netanyahu backed at first in a cabinet vote, only to fire finance minister Yair Lapid over that very issue. There is the equal national service law, at which Netanyahu is chipping away after so much time was spent drafting it, and after he voted for it in the plenum. The Public Broadcasting Law? Exactly a year ago, Netanyahu voted for it in the Knesset. Now he is working to scuttle it. The two-state solution? Before the election, he said, “There will be no Palestinian state.” After the election, he said, “I support the two-state solution.”
And that’s just the past 12 months.
In The Knesset hallways:
• MK Michael Oren (Kulanu) returned to Israel and is expected back in the Knesset after having spent three weeks promoting his book, “Ally,” in the United States. He will vote with the coalition Monday, but will they even need that vote? Could things be easing up after the political tension last week? One gets the impression that the natural-gas deal will not pass in the Knesset today.
• Regarding the natural-gas deal, will the issue of transferring power from the head of the Antitrust Authority to Economic Minister Aryeh Deri, who refused to decide on the matter, and to the government as a whole be put off until after the autumn holidays? After all, Antitrust Authority chief David Gilo is supposed to step down in August. Will his replacement make the same political decision that the prime minister wanted to begin with, which would clear up the mess on its own? Just a little conspiracy theory about the way appointments to high office work in the sole democracy in the Middle East.
• Enormous political dramas are going on in Greece (not regarding the referendum; the finance minister resigned) even as the Greek foreign minister Nikos Kotzias is visiting Israel. He met with Prime Minister Netanyahu and Energy and Infrastructure Minister Yuval Steinitz, who told him that Israel and Greece were closely linked as the only two democracies in the Middle East. Oh, so Israel is no longer the only democracy in the Middle East.
• MK Moshe Gafni, the head of the Knesset’s Finance Committee, promises new economic cutbacks even as he pushes to get the budget passed by the end of 2016 (nothing remains of the 2015 fiscal year). The opposition’s financial coordinator, MK Erel Margalit, told the committee Monday that the budget could have been closed long ago and that the coalition was wasting time. The votes in the committee hinge on a single ballot.