Netanyahu Seeks Bill to Allow Extension of Coronavirus State of Emergency Until March 2021

The move would enable the government to extend movement restrictions on the public at any time during the next 10 months

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A police officer enforces the closure of a neighborhood in Jerusalem during the coronavirus crisis, April 12, 2020.
A police officer enforces the closure of a neighborhood in Jerusalem during the coronavirus crisis, April 12, 2020.Credit: Emil Salman
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

The Israeli government is seeking legislation to extend the country’s state of emergency due to the coronavirus pandemic for up to 10 months, which would enable it to extend movement restrictions during that additional time.

A quasi-constitutional Basic Law on Government allows emergency regulations to be imposed for a period of only three months, with special legislation required to extend them.

But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is seeking to avoid turning the regulations into law, and has decided instead to seek a way to approve new regulations or extend the previous rules through March 2021, without the need to pass new legislation every three months.

Under the process Netanyahu seeks to adopt, the government could impose a closure or curfew on entire neighborhoods and halt public transportation, restrict the number of employees permitted on the premises of their workplaces and levy fines on anyone who violates these orders.

The bill would not permit emergency rules to be enforced against the courts, the Knesset or the president, and would allow the Knesset to cancel the state of emergency. The government plans to approve the measure against the recommendations of Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit, who has criticized this plan. Mendelblit has called on the government to shore up some of the regulations via Knesset legislation that would put these rules under parliamentary purview and make them subject to being monitored by Knesset committees.

In a memorandum about the bill, the Prime Minister’s Office says that in light of the imminent expiration of emergency regulations, “the need has arisen to establish a legal alternative for critical emergency arrangements to allow the battle against the virus to last beyond a three month period.”

The memorandum, which was circulated at the weekend to cabinet ministries ahead of plans to submit the legislation to a Knesset vote in the coming weeks, says the measure being sought is essential, since the emergency measures “are about delegating authorities which as stated could lead to serious violations of basic rights.”

The measure sets the deadline for the coming year: A state of emergency takes effect only after being published in the government gazette; it can be valid for no longer than 45 days. But the government may extend it multiple times for up to 30 days each time. The measure would be valid through March 31, 2021 “in order to provide the government with the tools to protect public health including during the danger of a wider spread of the virus anticipated next winter.”

The memorandum proposes restricting the regulations affecting individual rights to two weeks and most of the other restrictions to a maximum of 28 days, so as to permit parliamentary oversight whenever the government seeks to extend them. The memorandum does not set any limits to the damage any restrictions may do to individual rights.

The memorandum says the government would not be able to impose further emergency restrictions if the situation of the spread of the disease were to improve. But it does not specify any criteria for determining what would constitute a significant enough drop in rates of infection thereby leaving it solely up to the government to decide when an emergency situation may still be in effect. Whenever the risk of disease spread resumes, the government could renew the state of emergency and pass new regulations.

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