Gantz Bloc Seeks Legislation Aimed at Making Netanyahu Irrelevant

If the Knesset votes to replace incumbent Knesset speaker, Gantz's Kahol Lavan party intends to swiftly draw up two bills of dramatic significance, the combination of which would tie Netanyahu's hands in the next election

Yossi Verter
Yossi Verter
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Kahol Lavan's Benny Gantz arriving to a meeting with Yisrael Beiteinu's Avigdor Lieberman in Ramat Gan, March 20, 2020.
Kahol Lavan's Benny Gantz arriving to a meeting with Yisrael Beiteinu's Avigdor Lieberman in Ramat Gan, March 20, 2020.Credit: Moti Milrod
Yossi Verter
Yossi Verter

Sources in the bloc that supports Benny Gantz, who will get the mandate to form a new government from the president on Monday, are working to advance the following plan: If no unity government is formed, and Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein of Likud is replaced by a vote of the new Knesset, an arrangements committee, to be controlled by Kahol Lavan as long as Gantz retains the mandate, will swiftly draw up two bills of dramatic significance.

The first would prevent anyone charged with crimes from serving as prime minister, while the second would revisit the direct election of the prime minister, similar to the law that prevailed in Israel during the 1990s.

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However, Edelstein said that he would not allow the Knesset to choose a new speaker because the move would torpedo efforts to form a unity government. Edelstein has the legal authority to block the effort by not bringing the proposal up for a vote.

If it were only the second bill up for discussion, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could say to his voters: Give me the power; give me 61 seats next time so I can overturn that law when I’m elected (in a fourth election). But the first bill would prevent a person under indictment from contending in such a (direct) election, making that argument no longer valid.

The combination of the two bills is aimed at making Netanyahu irrelevant in the next election, whenever it is held, and would foment a holy storm within Likud. Members of the party that has been in power for the past 11 years – thanks to Netanyahu – would have to decide whether to jump into an empty pool with him, or choose life – that is, a new leader.

Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein (L) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Knesset in Jerusalem, February 2020. Credit: Emil Salman

Yisrael Beiteinu Chairman Avigdor Lieberman is a big advocate of directly electing the premier. He has frequently expressed support for changing the election method, and apparently even has a draft bill of his own prepared on this issue. It isn’t clear how this process will evolve in the coming weeks. Gantz has 28 days from Monday to form a government.

“Hasty political moves, like choosing a permanent speaker and passing controversial legislation, are aimed at blocking the possibility of unity that the people want,” Edelstein said Sunday. He added, “The time for petty politics is over. I will not facilitate a consensus-shattering move whose aim is to make opportunistic grabs in the legislature. The order of the day for the State of Israel is a broad unity government. The coronavirus crisis is not the only reason such a government is needed. The need was born long before the virus erupted.”

Even if Edelstein didn’t object to the move, the Knesset still hasn’t figured out how to hold a vote on anything because of the coronavirus restrictions banning gatherings of more than 10 people. The lawmakers are being sworn in on Monday in 40 separate shifts, with three MKs present for each round along with Edelstein, the Knesset secretary and President Reuven Rivlin.

Although Kahol Lavan is determined to hold a vote Monday, a Knesset source said there is no procedure for lawmakers voting when they are not in the plenum. Under the Basic Law on the Knesset and the Knesset regulations, lawmakers who plan to vote must all be in the plenum at one time; they cannot vote in shifts.

Kahol Lavan sent a letter to Edelstein asking him to hold a vote on choosing a new Knesset speaker. Yisrael Beiteinu and Labor-Meretz, without Gesher head Orli Levi-Abekasis, sent a similar letter. Meanwhile, lawmakers are seeking a way to circumvent Edelstein’s authority to prevent a vote on replacing him. The law gives deputy speakers the authority to put issues on the Knesset agenda, but these deputies have yet to be chosen.

Dr. Amir Fuchs, a researcher at the Israel Democracy Institute, said that Edelstein doesn’t have the authority to prevent a vote on choosing a speaker for irrelevant considerations, as Knesset legal adviser Eyal Yinon had previously made clear to him with regard to a vote on establishing a Knesset House Committee to deal with Netanyahu’s request for parliamentary immunity.

Kahol Lavan lawmaker Yair Lapid said in response to Edelstein’s remarks: “His shameful statement will not meet the legal test, the public opinion test or the fairness test. It’s a disgraceful exploitation of his position.” He added, “Edelstein can never again claim that he’s ‘statesmanlike.’ Today he has stopped being that.”