Knesset Backs Bill Meant to Ensure Netanyahu-Gantz Rotation in First of Three Votes

Kahol Lavan wants to require a supermajority of 75 Knesset members to cancel sanctions imposed if Netanyahu breaks deal, but sources expect it will be reduced to a bare majority of 61

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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Benny Gantz at a Memorial Day ceremony on April 27, 2020.
Benny Gantz at a Memorial Day ceremony on April 27, 2020.Credit: Emil Salman

In the first of three votes needed for passage, the Knesset backed legislation on Thursday that would permit the formation of a new coalition government in which, after a year and a half, Benjamin Netanyahu would be succeeded as prime minister by Kahol Lavan leader Benny Gantz.

The bill is mainly a set of sanctions on Netanyahu’s Likud or Kahol Lavan if either were to violate the agreement. If passed, the legislative changes – in the form of temporary amendments to the basic laws on the government and the Knesset – will remain in effect during the term of the current government alone.

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A Kahol Lavan source said that final passage of the legislation by Thursday of next week is required if the party is to recommend to President Reuven Rivlin that Netanyahu be reappointed prime minister. Then there would be an additional two weeks for the formation of a coalition government. If these efforts should fail, new elections would be triggered.

Kahol Lavan sources said that at the moment, the party intends to leave in place a provision that requires a supermajority of 75 of 120 Knesset members to repeal the proposed law. Party officials expressed the hope that the special majority would make it difficult for Netanyahu to evade ceding the position of prime minister to Gantz in a year and a half.

But the requirement of 75 votes for repeal is unusual, and Knesset sources expressed the expectation that it would have to be changed to 61 votes, as is provided for in similar legislation.

If the provision were reduced to 61, Netanyahu would only need to attract the support of two Knesset members from outside his right-wing bloc of 59 legislators to escape the legal requirement that he turn over the reins of government to Gantz.

On Monday, at a session of the Knesset committee responsible for reviewing the amendment to the law, Eyal Zandberg, who was representing Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit, said it would be better to reduce the provision from 75 to 61 “in accordance with the existing constitutional situation.”

The way was paved for Thursday’s first of three votes on the bill after the Knesset’s vote earlier in the week to split the legislation and introduce a separate bill on party funding. That bill is designed to provide Yoaz Hendel and Zvi Hauser’s new two-member Derech Eretz breakaway Knesset faction with immediate funding rather than requiring that they wait roughly two years for funds, as the current law requires.

Yair Lapid, the chairman of the Yesh Atid-Telem faction, which opted to split with Kahol Lavan when Gantz decided to join a coalition headed by Netanyahu, claimed that the coalition agreement was not a response to the coronavirus pandemic, but instead was the product of pressure from Kahol Lavan Knesset members who wanted to join a Netanyahu coalition.

The agreement had been drafted prior to the pandemic, he said.

“This agreement was written in September,” Lapid declared. “There was no coronavirus, no emergency situation and no economic or health care crisis. Back then, there were people who wanted to crawl into a Netanyahu government and now they have an excuse.”

Referring to a lawyer for Kahol Lavan, Lapid added: “I was one of the people who paid Avi Licht to write the agreement. Do you want to sell the public nonsense that you opted for this agreement because of the coronavirus?”

Lapid also said that if Gantz managed to form a coalition government with Netanhayu, Lapid would provide Netanyahu with the missing support to give him the 75 votes needed to scrap the agreement, if Netanyahu asked it of him.

The text of the amendments to the basic laws was changed at the beginning of the week in an effort to address scenarios that Kahol Lavan and Likud had not originally considered.

Among the issues was that it turned out the original draft did not address the possibility that either Gantz or Netanyahu might be replaced by another candidate from their party as prime minister or deputy prime minister, if either resigned. The new wording allows the Knesset to vote to replace either of them in the event of a resignation.

The original draft required that cabinet ministers declare an affiliation to either Netanyahu or Gantz because the original wording barred the two leaders from firing cabinet ministers associated with the other leader. The legal adviser to the Knesset Arrangements Committee, Gur Bligh, said that this wording could give half of the cabinet unlimited power if Gantz or Netanyahu resigned, because then no one would be able to fire them and they would not owe any allegiance to the serving prime minister.

The new version provides a mechanism that enables Netanyahu’s and Gantz’s parties to replace them if they resign with a new person with the power of their predecessor to dismiss cabinet members.

Following comments from the Justice Ministry, another provision was deleted, which would have required the deputy prime minister’s consent for emergency regulations in extreme situations. Another change defines the combined term of the two prime ministers as three years. The prior draft mentioned that, but it conflicted with the Basic Law on the Knesset, which could have been interpreted to give the prime minister who is in office at the end of the three years another six months.

Speaking at the Knesset on Sunday, former Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked of Yamina took exception to the requirement that 75 Knesset members be required to repeal the legislation requiring Netanyahu to step aside and make way for Gantz. A senior Likud party member who is involved in the passage of the legislation did not rule out changing the draft bill so that it could be amended later by 61 Knesset members.

For his part, the chairman of the committee handling the matter, Kahol Lavan’s Eitan Ginzburg, said he thought it was possible to get approval for wording still requiring a supermajority of 75. But according to one Kahol Lavan source, the inclination within the party is to have it brought up for a vote with the 75-member repeal provision, on the expectation that its validity would be decided ultimately by the High Court of Justice.