‘Norwegian Law’ pulled from Knesset agenda over coalition row

Likud party said worried some future Yesh Atid-Telem MKs may not switch to Blue and White as planned, and end up bolstering opposition

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) and Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz at the Knesset, May 17, 2020, after the new government was sworn in. (Alex Kolomoisky/POOL)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) and Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz at the Knesset, May 17, 2020, after the new government was sworn in. (Alex Kolomoisky/POOL)

A bill that would allow ministers to resign their Knesset positions and enable a different member of their party slate to enter parliament was taken off the legislative agenda on Wednesday, amid disagreements over the parliament’s committees and coalition fears the legislation could backfire to empower the opposition.

Issues within the coalition regarding amendments to the so-called Norwegian Law, as well as conflicts with opposition parties, delayed it moving forward, Hebrew media reported on Wednesday, a day after the Knesset Arrangements Committee approved the bill for its first plenum vote.

The Norwegian Law would allow any MK who is appointed to a cabinet post to resign temporarily from the Knesset, thereby permitting the next candidate on the party’s list to enter parliament in his or her stead.

It is meant to allow members lower down on the parties’ slates, who didn’t make it into parliament in the March 2 elections, to become lawmakers.

If passed, 13 ministers from various parties were planning to use the law to make way for an equal number of new MKs, Channel 12 news reported.

The first government conference of the new Israeli unity government, headed by Israeli prime ministre Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz at the Knesset, May 17, 2020 (Alex Kolomoisky/POO)

But as of Wednesday, the coalition and opposition were unable to agree on the formation of some Knesset committees, including the Knesset Law, Justice and Constitution Committee, which was supposed to review the bill immediately after its planned preliminary reading.

In addition, there is a concern within the coalition that the law may work against it by introducing new opposition MKs instead of government supporters, according to reports.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s party is concerned the future lawmakers from partner Benny Gantz’s centrist Blue and White party may stick to his former allies Yesh Atid and Telem in the opposition. The Blue and White alliance had split ahead of the coalition talks.

The Yesh Atid-Telem party responded to the development by tweeting — in Hebrew and Norwegian: “Whether there were differences of opinion in the coalition, or if someone in this detached government saw the difficulties for the public, it is good that the Norwegian Law is off the Knesset table.

“In a week where the government is handing out to itself jobs as though there is no serious economic crisis,” the country must not continue to be wasteful, the party wrote, referring to the impact of lockdown measures aimed at preventing a spread of the coronavirus that brought the economy to a standstill.

The unity coalition deal ended over a year of political deadlock when the most minister-rich government in Israel’s history was sworn in this week. New ministerial positions were created to accommodate the cabinet’s ministers, over a quarter of the Knesset’s 120 lawmakers.

In addition to the prime minister, the government launched with 33 cabinet ministers. There are also 16 deputy ministers. The price tag for the overhead costs of the new government has been estimated as high as a billion shekels ($285 million). There has been widespread accusations that the government is overlarge and costly at a time when the economy is being ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Each new MK added under the Norwegian Law will cost NIS 1,741,000 ($496,131) in wages, aides, office expenses and additional benefits such as a car, according to a review by the Knesset research and information center.

According to Channel 12, the Shas and United Torah Judaism parties are aiming to bring three new lawmakers apiece into the Knesset, plus two for Likud and five for Blue and White.

But it is the identity of the five new Blue and White MKs that is concerning Likud, Hebrew reports said.

One minister will have his seat taken by a member of the Yesh Atid-Telem party, Blue and White’s former election campaign partners who split away to join the opposition. Of the remaining four new lawmakers, two are members of Yesh Atid-Telem who are expected to switch sides and join Blue and White under a Knesset provision enabling new MKs from combined slates that divided after elections to choose, within 24 hours of taking up their seat, which of the parties they will represent.

But Likud fears those two MKs may choose to remain in the opposition with Yesh Atid-Telem, the report said.

Blue and White MK Avi Nissenkorn (C) chairs a meeting of the Knesset Arrangements Committee, January 13, 2020. (Knesset)

Blue and White originally sought to pass a “skipping Norwegian Law,” which would have allowed members to enter the Knesset not according to their original place on the slate. It was aimed at sidestepping the need to let members of the Yesh Atid-Telem faction enter the Knesset.

The High Court, however, said that the skipping version posed “significant legal difficulties.”

On Tuesday, opposition lawmakers revolted over the fact that a bill they were promised would be moved forward at the same time as the Norwegian Law, meant to increase unemployment benefits for small business owners who have been hurt by the coronavirus crisis, had been left on the cutting room floor.

The Ynet news site reported that in order to speed along the process, the coalition had reached an agreement with the opposition Monday to allow the latter to also expedite a piece of legislation.

The opposition chose to advance a law that would increase unemployment benefits for small-business workers, making them equal to the payouts to salaried employees.

Many self-employed workers have been hit hard by the restrictions imposed to contain the spread of the coronavirus, and have been protesting for higher compensation from the government.

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