Key panel approves Likud, Yesh Atid proposals to resume Knesset activity

None of 3 deputy Knesset speakers to be from anti-Netanyahu bloc; Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee to be headed by Yesh Atid’s Orna Barbivai, first woman in role

The Knesset Arrangements Committee meets to approve the breakaway of the Yesh Atid and Telem factions from the centrist Blue and White party, March 29, 2020. (Knesset)
The Knesset Arrangements Committee meets to approve the breakaway of the Yesh Atid and Telem factions from the centrist Blue and White party, March 29, 2020. (Knesset)

A key Knesset panel approved proposals from both the pro- and anti-Netanyahu blocs for committee chairs and deputy Knesset speakers, allowing the Knesset to resume its work for the first time since parliament was sworn in earlier this month.

The Arrangements Committee approved the Yesh Atid-led anti-Netanyahu bloc’s proposal for committee chairs, which will see the centrist party’s Orna Barbivai head the key Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee — becoming the first woman to ever hold the post; United Torah Judaism leader Moshe Gafni to head the Finance Committee; and Ra’am leader Mansour Abbas to head the new Arab affairs committee. All three panels will operate only on a temporary basis until a government is formed.

The Arrangements Committee also green-lit a Likud-backed proposal for three new deputy Knesset speakers, none of whom is from the anti-Netanyahu bloc. The three lawmakers are Ya’akov Margi from Shas, Matan Kahana from Yamina, and Abbas from Ra’am. While all three deputies are from conservative parties, only Margi is from a faction that has aligned itself almost unconditionally with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Then-Yesh Atid candidate Maj. Gen. (res.) Orna Barbivai at a press conference announcing her run on the party’s Knesset list, in Tel Aviv on January 1, 2018. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)

Nonetheless, the approvals appeared to mark a victory of sorts for the pro-Netanyahu bloc, as the Knesset speaker, who is currently Likud’s Yariv Levin, and the three deputies are the ones who determine which legislation can be brought to a vote before the plenum.

The Arrangements Committee’s decisions were slated to be ratified by the Knesset later Monday evening.

The approval of Abbas to head the Arab Affairs Committee sparked particular backlash from Netanyahu’s rivals, apparently over Abbas’s decision to cooperate with Likud and sideline the other majority-Arab party, the Joint List, from leading the Knesset’s efforts to address inequalities plaguing Israel’s Arab minority.

Meretz MK Issawi Frej responded to the announcement, saying that the formation of Abbas’s panel was “political bribery” and charging that the committee would be a “step back 50 years” for Arab society.

When Ra’am MK Waleed Taha defended the establishment of the committee and said that it was in the common interest of all, MK Ahmad Tibi of the Joint List responded that the committee was “an irrelevance” and that his party was instead calling for a committee to fight crime.

“There is no issue more important than the fight against crime in Arab society — it is defiled by the name of this committee,” Tibi said.

Abbas has openly broached the possibility of cooperating with Netanyahu in order to win moves sought for the Arab community aimed at fighting organized crime and improving quality of life.

Ra’am party chief Mansour Abbas speaks with reporters, April 19, 2021. (Tal Schneider/Zman Yisrael)

Monday’s ​meeting took place after a short delay, following committee head Miki Zohar’s apparent concession on Sunday that Knesset committees would be staffed based on a proposal submitted by the bloc of parties seeking to oust the premier.

The Arrangements Committee, which in the face of ongoing political deadlock has become increasingly influential, has 33 MKs — 16 from the so-called “change bloc” seeking to oust Netanyahu, 14 from the bloc led by Netanyahu, one for Islamist party Ra’am, and two for the right-wing Yamina party headed by Naftali Bennett.

Last week, rather than allow for a vote on the change bloc’s proposal for the establishment of parliamentary committees and deputies to the Knesset speaker, Zohar simply adjourned the panel, sparking outcry from left-wing lawmakers.

The so-called change bloc’s proposal was to see the appointment of four deputies to Knesset speaker Yariv Levin on Monday: three from the change bloc and just one from Likud. But Zohar, in the meantime, managed to rally the support of Ra’am to pass an alternative proposal.

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