Opposition gears up for 45-hour filibuster before final votes on police bill

Opposition gears up for 45-hour filibuster before final votes on police bill

Lapid calls recommendations bill an 'abomination,' as Zionist Union crowdsources objections

Marissa Newman is The Times of Israel political correspondent.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and coalition chairman David Amsalem converse during a Likud faction meeting at the Knesset on December 25, 2017. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and coalition chairman David Amsalem converse during a Likud faction meeting at the Knesset on December 25, 2017. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The Knesset on Monday evening was set to begin the final debate on the controversial police recommendations bill, with the opposition girding for a 45-hour filibuster, ahead of the votes passing the bill into law.

In anticipation of the days-long plenary session, the parliament’s Tuesday morning committee meetings were canceled, as opposition lawmakers vowed to obstruct the passage of the law for as long as possible.

The debate could last as long as three days, Hadashot news reported.

Earlier in the day, opposition leaders had railed against the recommendations bill, which would prevent police from commenting on whether there is an evidentiary basis for indictment of public officials, upon concluding their investigations and handing over their cases to prosecutors.

Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid speaks at a meeting in the Knesset on December 25, 2017. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

However, the bill by Likud MK David Amsalem also states that the attorney general, state prosecution, or other prosecutors may seek police input on the evidence, should it be deemed necessary.

The proposed law will not apply to open cases, including ongoing investigations into Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and former coalition chairman David Bitan.

At his weekly faction meeting, Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid branded the bill “an abomination.”

“It is an abomination because it takes Israel democracy and bends to the needs of one person,” he said, apparently referring to Netanyahu. He added that the bill had turned the Knesset into an “embarrassing circus of corruption.”

“They’re good at being corrupt,” Lapid said of the coalition, wryly praising what he described as the government’s uncharacteristic “efficiency” in passing the legislation.

Labor party chairman Avi Gabbay on Monday called it “a law that is entirely against the public and in favor of criminal organizations and corrupt public officials.”

His Zionist Union faction, an amalgam of Labor and Hatnua, was crowdsourcing its opposition, putting out an open call to the public to submit their objections to the police bill to be read in the plenum by the faction’s lawmakers.

“Forty-five hours of debate will soon begin. You’re welcome to send message,” tweeted Zionist Union MK Yael Cohen Paran.

The final votes on the bill come as police gear up to issue recommendations on Netanyahu’s two corruption cases. The prime minister is suspected of accepting pricey gifts from billionaire benefactors and of cutting an alleged quid-pro-quo with a newspaper publisher for more favorable coverage. He denies wrongdoing in both cases.

The Jerusalem bill

Also on Monday’s plenary agenda, but after the police recommendations legislation, was the Jewish Home’s Jerusalem law. As a result of the filibuster, the bill was expected to be delayed by at least a few days.

Jewish Home party leader Naftali Bennett earlier on Monday said the second and third readings of the bill would take place next week.

The bill, which passed its first reading in July, requires the support of two-thirds of the Knesset to hand over any part of Jerusalem to the Palestinians under a future peace deal.

The amendment to the Basic Law on Jerusalem would make it harder for any government to divide the city by requiring 80 of the 120 MKs to support giving up any part of the city to the sovereignty of a foreign power.

The bill would also allow the capital to drop two Arab-majority neighborhoods from its municipal borders in the future.

Under the proposal, the Israeli government would also be able to remove the Shuafat refugee camp and Kafr Aqab from the control of the Jerusalem Municipality and transfer them to a yet-to-be established local council.

The Shuafat refugee camp in East Jerusalem.(Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The two neighborhoods, both in East Jerusalem, lie on the eastern side of the security barrier yet are still part of the city, leading to complaints of neglect and a lack of public services by residents.

“This bill will be raised — and will pass — because this is why we are here,” said Bennett on Monday. “Jerusalem is forever, and we will invest all we can to establish its position in the world.”

He also contrasted the Jerusalem bill with the police recommendations bill, calling the latter “not that important.”

Netanyahu last week had reportedly held up the final votes on the Jerusalem bill due to US Vice President Mike Pence’s trip to the country. The visit was later postponed.

Jewish Home party leader Naftali Bennett leads a faction meeting at the Israeli parliament on December 25, 2017. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

The vote would comes weeks after US President Donald Trump, defying worldwide warnings, recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and announced plans to relocate the embassy from Tel Aviv. He insisted that after repeated failures to achieve peace, a new approach was long overdue and described his decision to recognize Jerusalem as the seat of Israel’s government as merely based on reality.

The move was hailed by Netanyahu and by leaders across much of the Israeli political spectrum, and condemned by much of the rest of the world. Trump stressed that he was not specifying the boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in the city, and called for no change in the status quo at the city’s holy sites.

On Monday, Guatemala announced it would also relocate its embassy. Speaking at the Likud faction meeting, Netanyahu hailed the decision and said other countries would soon follow suit.

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