High Court Appoints Temporary Knesset Speaker to Elect Replacement on Thursday

In the ruling, Supreme Court President Justice Esther Hayut attacks newly resigned Yuli Edelstein, saying he had committed 'an unprecedented violation of the rule of law'

Labor's Amir Peretz at a Labor Party conference, November 25, 2019.
Ohad Zwigenberg

The High Court ruled Thursday overnight that chairman of the Labor Party Amir Peretz will be appointed as the interim Knesset Speaker and will lead the plenary to elect a permanent speaker on Thursday, to replace the newly resigned Yuli Edelstein.

The justices ruled that Peretz would have "a limited and defined authority," to convene the plenary session Thursday to elect a permanent Knesset speaker. Peretz will not be able to exercise other powers of the Speaker except those instructed by the High Court.

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Following the High Court's decision, Avi Nissenkorn, a member of Benny Gantz's Kahol Lavan party who chairs the Knesset's Arrangements Committee, gathered the panel to to approve the vote, which would then take place at 4:00 P.M. 

In its statement, the committee said any lawmaker who wishes to file his nomination can do so by 3:30 P.M.

Edelstein speaks at a press conference in Jerusalem, January 12, 2020.
Ohad Zwigenberg

In the High Court decision, Supreme Court President Justice Esther Hayut attacked Edelstein, saying he had committed "an unprecedented violation of the rule of law." Hayut had strongly criticized Edelstein's decision to lock the plenary contrary to the court's decision. 

Hayut said that Edelstein's decision could lead to civilians not obeying government orders regarding the coronavirus. "If this is how a person of authority behaves, why should the citizen behave otherwise? ... Especially during these difficult days when we are dealing with the outbreak of the coronavirus epidemic, and citizens are required to comply with the unprecedented provisions and restrictions imposed by emergency regulations."

Earlier, the High Court debated a petition to accuse Edelstein of contempt of court, after he resigned on Wednesday, delaying the election of a permanent speaker, contrary to the court's ruling that a new Speaker will be selected by Wednesday midnight.

At the beginning of the session, Knesset Legal Advisor Eyal Yinon announced that he no longer represents the resigned Knesset Speaker. Edelstein requested to inform the court that he was satisfied with the testimonies he had so far given to the Court.

The justices accepted a plan presented by Yinon, which posits that Peretz would be granted a limited authority, by virtue of being the most senior lawmaker in the Knesset, to convene the plenum and hold a vote on a new speaker on Thursday. 

According to Yinon's outline, it would still be within's Peretz power to do so even if Edelstein retracted his resignation, which goes into effect on Friday.

Supreme Court President Esther Hayut flanked by Justices Uzi Fogelman and Hanan Melcer, December 31, 2019.
Ohad Zwigenberg

The second option proposed by Yinon which he expressed his support for, is for the court to only give Edelstein the specific authority to convene the Knesset - and not his role as speaker - and transfer it to another Knesset veteran. In this case, Peretz will be empowered to do so even if Edelstein reverses his resignation.

In his resignation speech, Edelstein charged that "the High Court's decision undercuts the foundations of democracy." According to Knesset protocols, Edelstein's resignation will come into effect in 48 hours.

"I'm not interested in being in contempt of the court. Respect the dictates of my conscience," Edelstein said. "My replacement will be able to do as they please in 48 hours." 

Earlier, Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit said that Edelstein's submission of his resignation "does not allow him to refrain from complying with the ruling" that he hold a vote on his replacement. Yinon said, however, that without special instructions from the High Court, the Knesset would not be able to convene. 

By resigning, Edelstein achieves two things: First, in the battle over  the independence of the Knesset, he will not be allowing the justices to set the Knesset's agenda. Secondly, by resigning, he shortens the amount of time that the center-left bloc headed by Benny Gantz has to pass legislation that would bar Netanyahu from serving as prime minister while under indictment before Gantz's current mandate to form a government expires.