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When Israel’s Arabs began to demand their own ‘normalization’ deal

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For a brief spell last Wednesday, Israel’s Knesset sounded like the stands at a soccer stadium.

“For shame!” opposition lawmakers shouted at the speaker’s dais, where Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin had just summarily canceled the results of a vote that wasn’t to his liking.

“Travesty!” bellowed one Yesh Atid MK.

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“Retroactive cancelation… empties the voting process of all meaning. That’s the heart of democracy,” fretted Meretz MK Tamar Zandberg.

It took about half an hour for everyone to realize the Knesset speaker was correct. The vote to establish a parliamentary investigation into yet another alleged corruption scandal surrounding Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the so-called “submarines affairs” (in which Netanyahu has never been a suspect, but which has ensnared some of his closest associates), had violated parliamentary procedure set down in law. Opposition MKs express anger after Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin nullifies a vote calling for an inquiry into the submarines affair, October 21, 2020. (Shmulik Grossman/Knesset)

The chair of the proceedings, Joint List MK Mansour Abbas, had failed to note a request by coalition chairman MK Miki Zohar (Likud) for a roll-call vote and pushed ahead with the vote while most coalition lawmakers were outside in the hallway. The vote passed by a narrow margin, 25 to 23.

When the speaker, Likud’s Levin, was notified about the vote, he summoned the coalition lawmakers into the plenum, announced that the previous vote was nullified and called a new one. That’s when the opposition started to shout, stormed out in protest, and let Likud overturn the decision unanimously.

The fast-moving sequence of events caught the political system off guard. For about an hour, media outlets and legal experts argued over whether a vote could be nullified. Likud lashed the “underhanded” way the vote had gone ahead; Meretz railed against the “gutting of Israel’s democracy.”

The great betrayal

And then, in the middle of it all, with both sides eager to squeeze as much political advantage as possible from the incident, came Mansour Abbas’s great betrayal, as some of his fellow Arab lawmakers saw it. Coalition whip Miki Zohar pleads his case to Deputy Knesset Speaker Mansour Abbas in the plenum on October 21, 2020. (Shmulik Grossman/Knesset)

The lawmaker from the Islamist Ra’am faction of the Arab Joint List released a joint statement with Levin that insisted that “canceling the results and holding the vote again was the right thing to do.”

The opposition was stunned. The Arab parties were embarrassed.

The shock wasn’t over Abbas’s acknowledgment that Levin was correct on the procedural question. Within an hour of the vote, it had become clear — and the Knesset legal advisory office had confirmed the point to the MKs — that the original vote had indeed violated procedure, since the government had a right set down in law to demand a roll-call vote, and Zohar had done so but been ignored.

But none of the fracas, nor even the original vote, was really about establishing a parliamentary investigation. Had the original vote stood, the inquiry would still have needed approval from the Knesset House Committee, which would have been all but impossible without the breakup of the coalition.

But the opposition wanted the ruckus, the political theater that would embarrass Likud and rally its constituencies. Levin’s cancelation of the vote was therefore an ideal outcome. To paraphrase a Meretz lawmaker: not only had they won the day, however briefly, in the plenum, but they were then silenced by an authoritarian speaker doing his corrupt master’s bidding.

And Abbas’s public admission that he’d erred, and in a joint statement with Likud no less, had robbed the opposition of that rallying moment.

“What happened today in the Knesset was a serious breach,” MK Mtanes Shihadeh, head of the Palestinian-nationalist Balad faction in the Joint List, tweeted........

© The Times of Israel

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