Ahead of High Court Hearing, Knesset Speaker Says Replacing Him Would Lead to Fourth Election

Petition seeks to force Yuli Edelstein to hold a vote on replacing him and to establish Knesset committees to oversee parliamentary work

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Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein gives a speech outside his office at the Knesset, January 12, 2020.
Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein gives a speech outside his office at the Knesset, January 12, 2020.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein said Sunday that ousting him from his post will lead to a fourth general election, ahead of a High Court of Justice hearing on a petition that would compel Edelstein to hold a parliamentary session to vote on replacing him.

When asked by Army Radio whether replacing the Knesset speaker was on the agenda for Monday’s parliamentary session, Edelstein said: “It might happen in the coming days, but that will be a very sad day. Not for me, leaving the speakership, but for the people of Israel, because on that day we’ll have to tell the people of Israel that we are going to a fourth election. But I’m making every effort to make sure this won’t happen.”

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According to Edelstein, his replacement at this time – while the Knesset is still forming – “could lead to a situation where there would be an oppositional speaker, whose party is not even in the coalition. And then the fate of the government will be a bitter one; within two or three weeks, we’ll go to an election.”

The Kahol Lavan party wants Edelstein replaced with a Knesset member from its roster, in order to pass legislation that would prevent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from forming a government while indicted, among other reasons.

The High Court of Justice is discussing two petitions filed by Kahol Lavan and the Movement for Quality Government to compel Edelstein to hold a Knesset session to vote on replacing him and to establish the Arrangements Committee, which governs all parliamentary work between an election and the formation of a new government.

Although Edelstein said that the Knesset will meet on Monday, the petitioners insist on holding the hearing on the petition a day earlier to ensure that the speaker will not postpone the vote again, as he did last week. The vote on the establishment of the new Knesset committees, which Edelstein pushed off, was rescheduled for Monday.

A statement to the High Court on behalf Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit stresses that emergency coronavirus regulations shouldn't prevent the Knesset from operating, adding that parliamentary oversight at a time of an global health crisis is "vital." 

Edelstein's Likud party said in a statement "If Kahol Lavan oust the Knesset speaker, talks on unity would stop immediately." Kahol Lavan responded in a tweet, arguing that "Likud's attempt to set an ultimatum and hurt democracy proves Netanyahu wants to drag Israel to a fourth election... A Knesset speaker is always elected by a majority of Knesset members – and so it will be this time as well."

In the meantime, the committees cannot operate, and cannot oversee the government’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak, including surveillance of civilians and the economic crisis.

According to the petition, a lack of Knesset oversight constitutes a “deep injury to the principle of the separation of powers, which is the life’s breath of Israeli democracy. Through his actions, [Edelstein] has caused fatal damage to the fabric of parliamentary life and our constitutional regime, and has allowed extraneous, narrow political considerations to leak into an arena where they do not belong.”

Jonathan Lis contributed to this report.

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