If 2020 Budget Doesn’t Pass, Knesset Will Dissolve Next Tuesday, Legal Counsel Says

With deadline looming, Likud and Kahol Lavan continue their political tug of war over senior appointments as Israel edges closer to a fourth election in two years

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Kahol Lavan Chairman Benny Gantz in the Knesset, December 15, 2020, as Israel's parliament looks set to dissolve
Kahol Lavan Chairman Benny Gantz in the Knesset, December 15, 2020, as Israel's parliament looks set to dissolveCredit: Emil Salman

The Knesset’s legal counsel has clarified that the date for its dissolution, in the event that no state budget is approved for 2020, is midnight on December 23 – namely next Tuesday night. The clarification was published following a wrong interpretation that determined that it would be Wednesday night.

Meanwhile, Kahol Lavan and Likud are trading accusations regarding the bill for dissolving the parliament that was approved in a preliminary vote earlier this month. A second and third reading would lead to the Knesset’s dissolution even earlier. The vote in a first reading of the bill was postponed twice last week.

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Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s Kahol Lavan party wants to hinge the approval of Border Police commander Kobi Shabtai as the new police commissioner on the approval of Amit Eisman, the head of the state prosecution’s Haifa branch, as the state prosecutor. It is not currently known when these appointments will be brought to the cabinet for approval. According to one source in Kahol Lavan, “as determined by the High Court of Justice, we believe that all senior appointments should be dealt with together.”

The vote on the first reading of the bill for dissolving the Knesset was supposed to be held on Monday, but was deferred until next Monday. This was based on the claim that the limited Knesset schedule during Hanukkah does not leave time for holding the vote.

A day earlier, Speaker Yariv Levin (Likud) had postponed the vote by one day. Likud sources said that the background for the postponement was disagreements on the date of the next election, which according to the law should be on March 16, as well as disagreements over other aspects related to the election.

Kahol Lavan claimed that Likud was trying to thwart the vote since the bill calls for slashing funds that parties will receive in the coming election campaign. It also calls for more transparency in election advertising that appears online.

The bill for dissolving the Knesset, presented by Yesh Atid-Telem, was approved in a preliminary vote earlier this month. It was later approved by a Knesset committee, which enabled it to be brought to a first reading. In addition to a 10 percent cut in election campaign funding, the version that was approved includes several changes, such as easing the conditions for returning loans taken by parties, and a stipulation for more transparency in electioneering.

The Knesset's mail hall, December 2020. Credit: Dani Shem Tov / Knesset Spokesperson

Earlier this week, Gantz asked the cabinet to discuss the appointments of Eisman and Shimon Brown, the candidate for the post of director general at the Justice Ministry. Likud refused his request. Two days ago, Public Security Minister Amir Ohana announced that he was proposing Shabtai as the new police commissioner. Two weeks ago, a search committee for the post of state prosecutor picked Eisman.

The High Court of Justice determined last week that a permanent director general must be appointed at the Justice Ministry, thereby accepting the position of Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit, which states that coalition disputes cannot override the government’s obligation to make permanent senior appointments. So far, Kahol Lavan has not been approached on this issue.

The search committee explained its choice of Eisman by saying that he presented “a detailed plan for contending with the challenges currently facing law enforcement agencies, as well as a vision of public transparency and openness to criticism.”

Eisman received a warning in the past due to comments of a sexual nature he made to women serving under him at the state prosecution. Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn said there was no reason not to go ahead with this appointment, but Justice Ministry officials estimate that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will try to block it, and that the High Court will have to rule on the issue.

In closed meetings, Acting Police Commissioner Motti Cohen expressed his disappointment over not getting the job, even though he was expected to be the one appointed. Cohen talked with Ohana after Shabtai’s appointment was announced, with sources saying that the meeting was “fraught.” Cohen later talked with senior police officers, welcoming Shabtai and announcing his resignation, which will take effect in January. Deputy Commissioner Alon Asur will replace him until Shabtai is formally appointed.

A senior law enforcement official said that Ohana did not choose Cohen because of the troubled relationship between the two, based on a struggle over an independent police force. According to a senior source, Ohana tried to interfere with police work and asked for material from ongoing investigations.

He added that these were not sensitive files from the anti-fraud unit. The police refused to comply with Ohana’s requests. “Cohen fought for police independence and paid the price,” the source said.

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