Knesset Legal Counsel Criticizes Nixing of Minister Limit as Deadline to Form Gov't Approaches

Legal counsel calls the process 'inadvisable and undesirable,' but emphasizes it is not technically illegal

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Knesset, Jerusalem, May 20, 2019.
Olivier Fitoussi

The Knesset's legal adviser criticized Tuesday the expedited process that canceled the limit on the number of ministers Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu can appoint.

According to the legal adviser's deputy, Gur Blay, "It is inadvisable and undesirable to pass such a law by an interim Knesset and in an expedited process."

The Israeli government approved Netanyahu's request Sunday to remove the limit on the number of ministers he can appoint, a decision he says will help ease his coalition-building process, which must be concluded by May 30.

Blay presented the legal adviser's position in the Knesset debate Tuesday morning, but emphasized that the process is legally sound. The deputy attorney general, Raz Nezri, added that "not everything that smells fishy to the public is legally invalid."

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"This is a government that has yet to earn the confidence of the new Knesset. An interim government has limits on its ability to function. It is certainly not ideal that this should be carried out by an interim government," Nezri said.

Nezri stressed that in his opinion there is no legal barrier to passing such a law, but that it could present some difficulties. "We're talking about a Basic Law," he said, referring to the 14 quasi-constitutional laws which can only be changed by a super-majority of the Knesset. The minister limit is set by the Basic Law of The Government.

"They are trying to amend it with a quick and unorthodox process," he said.

Opposition lawmaker Yair Lapid of the Kahol Lavan political alliance sharply criticized the move, saying, "We're assembled here today to establish eight superfluous government offices."

The ministers agreed to pass a bill that would cancel the current limits on the number of ministers, which currently stands at 19, and deputy ministers, which stands at four. The Knesset is expected to vote on it next week.

According to the memorandum, Netanyahu requested to raise the number of ministers to ensure "governmental stability" in the coalition-building process.

He expressed frustration that the parties are still clinging to lofty demands, adding he hopes they show some latitude "so that we can build a strong and stable government together for the State of Israel that will continue to bring the state to new achievements."

This is not the first time Netanyahu expanded the number of ministers in government. In his last term, a similar measure was adopted, carried out as a temporary order. At the time, however, it was four days after Netanyahu informed the president that he could form a government, and after most of the coalitional agreements were already signed.

On Friday, Netanyahu's Likud party said that a proposed amendment to the law governing legislators’ immunity from prosecution will not be included in the coalition agreements. The exclusion of the issue would not bar Likud from advancing the legislation.

Likud seeks to restore automatic immunity from prosecution for legislators, which until a 2005 amendment was passed, could be revoked by the Knesset. Under the previous version of the law, which Likud hopes to reinstate, the attorney general could argue the case for rescinding an MK’s immunity before the House Committee, which had the authority to accept or reject the request.

The amendment could help not only Netanyahu but also additional coalition members who face possible prosecution on corruption charges, including Labor, Social Affairs and Social Services Minister Haim Katz, Interior Minister Arye Dery and former coalition whip MK David Bitan.