The Knesset's legal adviser is set to warn the Constitution Law and Justice Committee by Monday that a bill preventing anyone under indictment from forming a government would likely face major constitutional hurdles, potentially extinguishing last-ditch efforts to lock former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu out of the premiership ahead of Israeli elections.
The bill being pushed by Justice Minister Gideon Sa'ar and Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman – which seeks to amend the Basic Law on the Government that would prevent the president from appointing an individual indicted on criminal charges from forming a government – will likely be opposed by the Knesset legal adviser's office. But according to office staff, their opposition doesn't stem from the bill itself, but rather, from its timing: after the Knesset has already passed a preliminary vote to dissolve itself, election season has, for all intents and purposes, begun.
Knesset sources say a representative of the legal adviser’s office, Sagit Afek, is expected to present their opposition at a meeting of the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee. In an unusual move, Afek is expected to submit the office's opinion orally during the meeting rather than in written form, which Knesset sources say is due to stakes around the bill and the legal adviser's desire to avoid politically charged disputes.
In response, senior coalition lawmakers argue that as long as Netanyahu tries to move ahead with forming an alternative government in the current Knesset, it cannot be said that election season has been launched in Israel until the Knesset passes the bill dissolving itself.
Without the Knesset legal adviser's support, the bill, widely perceived as part of the political wrangling between the opposition and the coalition, is unlikely to pass. But coalition lawmakers, including those in Sa’ar and Liberman’s parties, understood that the bill's chancees of passing were slim to none, even before the legal adviser's opposition.
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Last week, Justice Minister Gideon Sa'ar tweeted, “The goal in the upcoming elections is clear: to prevent Netanyahu from returning to power and enslaving the state to his personal interests."
A previous bill, backed by Sa’ar, which would have set term limits for prime ministers failed to pass the Knesset earlier this year. Pursuing legislation to limit a prime minister's rule to eight years or two terms was a key component of the coalition agreement between Naftali Bennett's Yamina and Yair Lapid's Yesh Atid parties.