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Knesset Highlights: Nineteenth Knesset

(2013 - 2015)

The 19th Knesset was elected on January 22, 2013 and served for less than two years. During its tenure, the 33rd government headed by Benjamin Netanyahu was in power. 

The coalition consisted of the Likud-Yisrael Beitenu faction (which, in July 2014, split into Likud – The National Liberal Movement, and Yisrael Beitenu), Yesh Atid, Habayit Hayehudi and Hatenua. The diversity of the factions raised hopes that progress would be made on various issues on the public agenda, but these hopes were dashed, at least partially, due to the factions' unwillingness to cooperate in order to keep their promises to the voters. 

The elections for the 20th Knesset were moved forward to March 17, 2015 amid the difficulties and strife within the coalition. These conflicts were related, among other things, to the negotiations with the Palestinians, which reached a dead end; to the approval of the 2015 State Budget and to two bills that ultimately were not passed. One of these bills was Basic Law: Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People. It was asserted that the proposed legislation may undermine the democratic character of the state. The other bill was the 0% VAT Bill, initiated by Finance Minister Yair Lapid. The argument surrounding the bill was whether it could actually lower housing prices. 

However, the 19th Knesset did enact a number of important laws: The Equal Share of the Burden Law, which was opposed by ultra-Orthodox MKs; the governance Laws, which included raising the electoral threshold to 3.25%. This law drew the ire of the smaller factions, including the Arab factions, which were now forced to run in the next elections together, as a united faction; Basic Law: Referendum, which establishes preconditions for the approval of government decisions to sign or ratify any agreement, or implement by any other means, a plan for the cessation of application of the law, jurisdiction, and administration of the State of Israel in areas previously subject to those powers; the Books Law, which establishes new regulations in the book market; and the Prevention of Infiltration Law, which is aimed at curbing illegal immigration. 

The softer version of the Prevention of Infiltration Law was passed after the High Court of Justice quashed two earlier laws, ruling that they violated Basic Law: Human Dignity and Freedom. It appears that the current version of the law, which was passed during the final week of the 19th Knesset's term, will undergo additional revisions in the next Knesset. 

Despite pressure from the United States, during the 19th Knesset there was no progress in the negotiations with the Palestinians. In July 2013, Secretary of State John Kerry announced a plan for peace between Israel and the Palestinians, with Washington's support. It was determined that the negotiations would take place over the course of nine months – from August 2013 until the end of April 2014. It was agreed that all of the core issues would be resolved, Israel would release 104 security prisoners, while the Palestinians would not turn to the UN with a request to recognize Palestine and would avoid any unilateral measures. 

During the negotiations, Israel freed 78 terrorists in three phases. The fourth phase, which was set for early April 2014, did not take place due to widening gaps between the sides. The disagreements were related to construction in Judea and Samaria, Abbas' refusal to recognize the State of Israel and the possibility of extending the talks beyond the set date. 

In light of the reconciliation agreement between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, Israel halted the talks and imposed economic sanctions on the PA. The swearing-in ceremony of the Palestinian unity government took place in Ramallah in June 2014, with the backing of Hamas and Fatah. In September 2014, with the conclusion of Operation Protective Edge, Abbas delivered a harsh speech in the UN, in which he accused Israel of committing genocide in Gaza and planning another Nakba against the Palestinians. Meanwhile, he asked international organizations to recognize the Palestinian state. On November 29, the UN General Assembly voted in favor of accepting the Palestinian Authority as an observer state in the UN. On December 17, the General Court of the European Union in Luxembourg accepted the petition by Hamas in which it sought to have itself removed from the EU's list of terrorist organizations. In addition, the European Parliament decided to support the establishment of a Palestinian state. On December 30, the UN Security Council rejected a Palestinian resolution which demanded "an end to the occupation" and called for setting a timetable for drafting a peace agreement" and for an Israeli "withdrawal from the territories." 

Operation Protective Edge began on July 8, 2014 amid increasing rocket fire from Gaza towards Israel. In the initial phase of the operation, Israel responded with heavy bombardments of the Strip and dealt with the infiltration of terrorists into its territory. 

It was during this point that Iron Dome batteries were deployed throughout the country to protect the residents of central Israel as well. During the second phase, which began on June 17, IDF ground forces entered Gaza in order to seek out terrorists and destroy underground terror tunnels. During the third phase of the operation, which began on August 5, the ground forces withdrew from Gaza, but the fighting continued. Operation Protective Edge ended on August 26 with a ceasefire. 

During debates in the Plenum and the committees, the Knesset discussed, among other issues, the terror attacks and riots within Israeli territory, which led to a decrease in the level of the personal security of the country's citizens. 

Amid the progress of Iran's nuclear program and the economic and diplomatic sanctions imposed on the Islamic Republic by the United States and states belonging to the European Union, in November 2013 an interim agreement was signed in Geneva between the five permanent members of the UN, plus Germany, with Iran. The agreement called to freeze certain aspects of Tehran's nuclear program for a short time in exchange for the easing of sanctions. The negotiations are ongoing, and a permanent agreement has yet to be reached. The Knesset discussed this issue as well. 

The debates of the 19th Knesset related to economic and social issues centered on, among other things, the public health system and the difficulties it is facing; the war against poverty and the cost of living; the difficulties of the middle class; and the government's attempts to reduce housing prices through Finance Minister Lapid's plan to exempt first-time home buyers from VAT.

Source: The Knesset.