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(Source: Israel Government Year Book)
FUNCTIONS AND STRUCTURE
The 120-member Knesset is Israel's legislature. Members of Knesset (MKs) are elected every four years within the framework of parties that compete for the electorate's votes. Each party chooses its own Knesset candidates as it sees fit. The major function of the Knesset is to legislate laws and revise them as necessary. Additional duties include establishing a government, taking policy decisions, reviewing government activities, and electing the President of the State and the State Comptroller.
The Knesset works in plenum and committees. The plenum, the supreme authority of the house, has two annual sittings of at least eight months' duration. The two sittings together form a session. The Knesset may be convened during intersessions if 30 members demand this in writing or if the Government so requests. Resolutions of the plenum are taken by a majority of participating MKs, except for cases in which a special majority is required. The plenum elects the Speaker of the Knesset and one or more deputy speakers (the law does not specify the number). Deliberations in the plenum, presided over by the Speaker or a Deputy Speaker, are open to the media and the public. The agenda of Knesset meetings is set by the Speaker in accordance with Government proposals. One meeting each week is set aside for consideration of private member's bills. Every day that the Knesset is in session, time is reserved for ministers to reply to questions.
Knesset debates take the form of general debates, motions for the agenda, parliamentary questions, and motions of no confidence. A general debate is held on bills or general matters of a political or other nature. Debates on bills conclude with a vote; debates on general matters may end without voting. A motion for the agenda is a preliminary debate concerning the inclusion of an issue raised by an MK on the Knesset agenda. A parliamentary question is asked by an MK of a minister on ministry affairs, to draw the attention of the Government and the public to an issue that, in the presenter's opinion, needs corrective action. Parliamentary questions are presented in writing, and the minister must reply in the Knesset plenum within a period of time set by Knesset bylaws. Since 1984, oral parliamentary questions have also been allowed; these must be replied to within two days, at which time members of other Knesset factions may ask additional questions. Any Knesset faction may submit a motion of no confidence in the Government; the Knesset must vote on the motion at its first meeting during the week following submission of the motion. If the no-confidence motion wins a majority of those present and voting, the defeated Government functions in a caretaker capacity until a new Government is established.
The Knesset's main function, however, is legislative. While the Government is the sponsor of most legislation, any MK can present a bill, known as a "private member's bill." Bills go through three stages, beginning with a first reading, i.e., a general debate in the plenum. At this stage the bill may be accepted and referred to the appropriate committee, removed from the Knesset table, or returned to the Government. If the bill is accepted, it goes to committee for the resolution of details. The committee may propose as many amendments as it wishes, as long as the general topic of the bill is not impaired. The committee then returns the amended bill to the plenum for a second reading, where the deliberations and voting take place on each section separately. In the third and final reading, the bill is presented in its final form, as adopted in the second reading. While most Knesset votes are by show of hands, certain cases are resolved by secret ballot or by roll-call vote. The Twelfth Knesset was the first to institute electronic voting.
The Work of the Knesset: Responsibilities, Roles and Authority (Knesset website)
The Knesset has the following 12 permanent committees (in alphabetical order): the Committee for the Advancement of the Status of Women; the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee; the Economics Committee; the Education and Culture Committee; the Finance Committee; the Foreign Affairs and Security Committee; the House Committee; the Immigration and Absorption Committee; the Interior and Environment Committee; the Labor and Welfare Committee; the Committee on Scientific and Technological Research and Development; and the State Control Committee.
There are also committees on particular matters, which function in a similar manner to the permanent committees, but with a limited term of office. Today, there are three such functional committees: the Anti-Drug Abuse Committee; the Committee for Foreign Workers; and the Committee for the Advancement of the Status of the Child.
Committee chairpersons are chosen by their members, on the recommendation of the House Committee, and their factional composition resembles that of the Knesset itself. Committees may elect subcommittees and delegate powers to them. They may also establish joint committees for issues concerning more than one committee. In addition to their legislative function, the committees discuss government regulations or any matter referred to them by the plenum. To further their deliberations they invite government ministers, senior officials, and experts in the matters being discussed. Committees may require explanation and information from relevant ministers in any matter within their competence, and the ministers, or persons appointed by them, must provide the explanation or information requested.
By law, MKs enjoy lifetime personal immunity from prosecution for votes, acts committed, or opinions expressed in the course of duty. During their term of office, they are also immune from search of their homes or bodies (except for customs' checks) and are not subject to arrest unless caught in the commission of a violent crime, disturbance of the peace, or treason. This immunity can be lifted if the Knesset plenum so resolves. Finally, access to and activity in the Knesset building and compound require permission from the Speaker of the Knesset.