Israel Election Results: Cloud of Uncertainty to Hang Over Tuesday’s Knesset Swearing-in

The new Knesset will elect the next president, even if no government is formed and new elections are called

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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The Knesset building in Jerusalem.
The Knesset building in Jerusalem.Credit: Thomas Coex / AFP
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

The new Knesset will be sworn in on Tuesday, but its members still don’t know whether they’ll be able to serve out their terms or whether parliament will dissolve in a few weeks if new elections are called.

The ceremony will begin at 4 P.M., presided over by Speaker Yariv Levin – who also doesn’t know how long he’ll remain in office. The bloc opposed to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sees gaining control of the speaker’s office as tactically important and hopes to replace him swiftly with Meir Cohen (Yesh Atid), Gideon Sa’ar (New Hope) or Ayelet Shaked (Yamina).

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That would greatly limit Netanyahu’s ability to pass legislation or influence Knesset committees while serving as caretaker prime minister until a new government is formed. However, Yamina chairman Naftali Bennett has yet to decide whether he will join this attempt to gain control of the Knesset.

After completing consultations with party representatives on Monday, President Rivlin announced Tuesday that he is tasking Netanyahu with forming a government. Should Netanyahu fail within the 28 days he has to do so, there will either be a fifth election or the president will give the mandate to another lawmaker.

Seventeen of the lawmakers being sworn in on Tuesday are first-time Knesset members. On Monday, they attended an orientation at the Knesset in which they learned how to vote, how to draft and enact legislation and what their working conditions will be.

One major job the new Knesset will have to do even if no government is formed is electing the next president. By law, the Knesset must choose a new president by June 9, a month before President Reuven Rivlin’s seven-year term ends.

Knesset members have speculated that the negotiations on forming a government may include demands to change the presidential election process from a secret ballot to an open one. That would make it easier for parties to make deals to elect a certain candidate by making it harder for lawmakers to violate party discipline.

If a government is formed, it will face two urgent tasks – swiftly passing a budget for the current year and drafting new legislation to govern draft exemptions for yeshiva students. The latter task has proven impossible for previous governments that included the ultra-Orthodox parties.

Due to the coronavirus, the Knesset has barred guests and held most sessions online for the past year. But on Tuesday, for the first time since the virus erupted, every lawmaker will be allowed to bring one guest.

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