What to Watch in the Knesset

15 July 2020
What to Watch in the Knesset

The New Israel Fund tracks legislation in the Knesset that could change the way Israeli democracy functions. We will provide regular updates throughout this Knesset session.

Subscribe to What to Watch in in the Knesset email updates here

Regularization Law Ruled Unconstitutional:

Last month, Israel’s Supreme Court invalidated the “Law for the Regularization of Settlement in Judea and Samaria” as “unconstitutional.” The “Regularization Law,” or the “Expropriation Law” as its critics called it, allowed the state to confiscate privately-owned Palestinian land for the benefit of settlements. In March 2017, 23 council heads of Palestinian villages, four landowners, and 13 human rights organizations petitioned the Supreme Court to overturn the law. On June 9, they won, and the law was overturned by an 8-1 majority.

  • The verdict (including a full list of petitioners) is available in Hebrew here (copy and paste the link into your browser to view):\17\080\013\v48&fileName=17013080.V48&type=4
  • Read NIF CEO Daniel Sokatch: A Victory Against the Occupation – and the Fight Ahead

In the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the Regularization Law, the Israeli right resumed its attack against Israel’s judicial system. At least for the time being, Blue and White has managed to prevent legislation that would undermine the judicial system’s independence. MK Bezalel Smotrich from the far-right Yamina Party proposed forming a parliamentary commission of inquiry into the Supreme Court justices’ supposed conflicts of interest. There were indications that Netanyahu had instructed Likud MKs to support the measure, but Blue and White Chairman Benny Gantz called it an egregious violation of the coalition agreement and a “declaration of war on democracy,” effectively defeating it.

Norwegian Law Passed:

On June 15, the Knesset passed an amendment to Basic Law: The Knesset known as the “Norwegian Law.” It allows government ministers or deputy ministers to temporarily resign from their Knesset seat, allowing their vacated seat to be filled by another member of their party from lower on the party’s list. This substitution raises concerns about democratic representation, since the arrangement would replace those closer to the top of a party’s ticket with those who ranked far lower on a party’s list. (In Israel’s parliamentary system, voters cast a ballot for a party list not an individual candidate).

Proponents of the law argued that allowing government ministers to resign their Knesset posts will increase the number of legislators able to focus on parliamentary work full-time. (Ministers and deputy ministers may not take part in certain parliamentary duties, such as serving on Knesset committees). Critics, including the Justice Minister’s legal advisor, raised concerns, including over the fact that the measure does not apply universally to all ministers, citing the potential for manipulation. Other critics noted a potential abuse of the law might occur should the government use its newfound ability to effectively “fire” MKs (when a minister resigns from the government and resumes their prior position in Knesset). In other words, it might provide an undue source of leverage to the executive branch over the legislative.

Emergency Coronavirus Regulations:

On July 6, the Knesset passed an amendment to a temporary coronavirus law, the so-called “Frameworks Law” which will be in force until August 6, which allows the government to enact emergency regulations related to the coronavirus without prior Knesset approval. After a successful petition by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), Israel’s Supreme Court ruled the government’s emergency regulations pertaining to coronavirus require broader legislative oversight. Prior to this amendment, the law required that government decisions be approved before going into effect by the Knesset’s Special Committee on the Novel Coronavirus. This new amendment, however, allows the government to implement regulations with only retroactive Knesset oversight by the relevant Knesset committees.

Critics have argued the law damages the separation of powers in Israel. Dr. Amir Fuchs, researcher at the Israel Democracy Institute, criticized this new law for providing the government “with far too much leeway.” It “would exempt it from the necessary parliamentary oversight.” While the law requires Knesset’s retroactive ratification of any government regulation within ten days, it effectively allows the government to act without the Knesset as a check on its power.

The amendment is significant insofar as it weakens Knesset oversight over the government — and because it is a trial balloon for broader application. In recent days, thousands of Israelis have protested over the government’s handling of the coronavirus crisis. In light of this, Prime Minister Netanyahu has complained that parliamentary deliberation has inhibited an effective government response. Now, the government is attempting to replicate this weak retroactive oversight mechanism in a broader coronavirus law, “The Special Powers Law for Dealing with Coronavirus” currently being discussed in the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee.

West Bank Annexation:

The coalition agreement signed between Likud and Blue and White designated July 1 as the start date for a Cabinet or Knesset deliberation on an annexation proposal. But absent a clear green light from the Trump administration, that date passed without the introduction of a measure to formally begin the process. The full scope of potential annexation and when it might be brought to the Knesset for consideration remains unclear.