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Knesset Returns To Work — At Last

The Knesset returned to work today, after its exceedingly long summer break, and all indications are that we’re in for a session full of passion, arguments, and anger.

The key issues on the table divide Israel along its various social and electoral cleavages: religious, ethnic, dove-hawk, and left-right on domestic matters. And of course, this is without even touching on the big strategic matters of Syria, Iran, Egypt etc.

First up, religious. It’s supposedly decision time for the issue of the Haredi draft. Expect angry stamping of feet by Yesh Atid when proposals fail to meet the scale of draft it promised voters and the tearing up of legislation proposals at the Knesset podium by Haredi lawmakers. Expect Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu trying to mediate between them and ultimately trying to delay any decisions — but not without plenty of spilled ink, raised tempers, and talk of Yesh Atid walking out of the government.

Chief among the ethnic conflicts will be objections by Bedouin citizens to the state’s plans to urbanize them and remove them from lands to which they claim historic rights (the state doesn’t agree). This is a highly emotive issue that could well serve for an outlet for broader frustrations in the Arab sector.

Doves and hawks will clash on every detail of the ongoing negotiations. If there are more terror attacks, there will be more claims from hawks that negotiations should be suspended and/or the planned release of Palestinian prisoners (a concession that Israel is making as part of the peace process) should be cancelled. Expect one of the most bitter confrontations over the bill to require a referendum before any peace deal is agreed. Hawks see this as a get-out clause and/or a democratic right; doves tend to see it as an underhand way to sabotage any diplomatic advances.

On domestic policy, the left and the right will face off over the High Court’s recent decision that struck down a controversial law that allows the state to detain illegal immigrants for up to three years. The right is furious, claiming that Israel’s hands have been tied and it is weakened in its actions against illegal immigrants. But it goes deeper than this — the right sees this as underscoring all that is bad about the High Court, chiefly what is perceived as its political activism against the government. The left views the High Court decision on this issue as a welcome indication that the justice system still protects the weak, and will fight tooth-and-nail to avoid and return moves in Knesset to challenge the ruling or to institute long-term detentions by way of new legislation.

It’s a long time since the Knesset got much real work done. This time last year the Knesset was already gearing up for elections; then came coalition building; and just as the government was formed and lawmakers were settling in to their offices, it was the summer vacation. Now is the time for the many Knesset freshmen to get themselves noticed — and they have the perfect politically-charged environment in which to do so.

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