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Knesset

KNESSET

The parliament of Israel.

The Knesset is unicameral, with 120 members who are elected for a term of four years. A majority may call for early elections. The Knesset's power of judicial review is limited, but it can, with special majorities (that is, fixed numerical requirements that may be more than a majority of those present and voting on a given occasion), change the Basic Lawsthe constitution. (Only simple majoritiesmore than half of those present in the Knesset at any given time, which could be less than half of the 120 Members of Knessetare necessary to make ordinary legislation.) The Knesset chooses the prime minister, the cabinet, and the symbolically important president of the state, and it can dismiss the government through a no-confidence vote. In addition to legislative duties, it has broad investigative powers. It must be in session for at least eight months of each year. Members enjoy wide legislative immunity.

Most of the Knesset's work is done by standing committees. The legislative process is similar to those of most other countries. After a first reading, a bill is sent to committee where it may be studied and amended, after which it returns to the full Knesset for second and third readings. Israel has a classical parliamentary system; the Knesset has relatively little political independence. Committee membership corresponds to party strength in the Knesset, and deputies are restrained by their parties under tight discipline. Knesset members may introduce private bills, question members of the government, and present motions for debate of subjects not on the government's agenda. However, these rarely have a significant impact.

Knesset members are subordinate to political parties because of the electoral system, a single national constituency in a proportional representation system. Voting is by party lists. Until 1992 parties needed only 1 percent of the votes to win a seat, and the result of this system was the presence of numerous small parties. There has never been a time when a single party had a majority in the Knesset; coalitions have always been necessary. When the threshold was raised to 1.5 percent in 1992, the number of parties dropped markedly.

Structural characteristics strengthen the role of the executive at the expense of parliamentary independence. It has been estimated that 95 percent of the bills are introduced into the Knesset by the government. Knesset debate on them, both in committees and on the floor, seldom leads to any outcome other than that desired by the coalition members.

see also israel: political parties in.


Bibliography


Arian, Asher. "Politics in Israel. The Second Generation." In Encyclopedia Judaica, Vol. 10. Chatham, NJ: 1985.

Hazan, Reuven. Reforming Parliamentary Committees: Israel in Comparative Perspective. Columbus: Ohio State University, 2001.

Mahler, Gregory. The Knesset: Parliament in the Israeli Political System. Rutherford, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1981.

walter f. weiker
updated by gregory s. mahler

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Knesset

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