Israeli Lawmakers Race to Vote on Dozens of Bills Before Decision on Election Date

A final vote to dissolve the Knesset is expected late Wednesday after last-minute legislation is ushered through. Yair Lapid will then take over from Naftali Bennett as caretaker prime minister

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Yair Lapid (left) and Naftali Bennett in the Knesset, last week.
Yair Lapid (left) and Naftali Bennett in the Knesset, last week.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

Israeli lawmakers are set for a final day of debates before an expected late Wednesday vote to dissolve the Knesset and call an early election, which would be the country's fifth in less than four years.

Israel heads to fifth election, and its democracy is on the line

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A bill was approved setting out regulations for the next election cycle late Tuesday, setting the stage for two final votes by the full Knesset. In the meantime, lawmakers will race to advance as many laws as they can before the end of the day Wednesday. The final vote on dissolution is not expected to take place before midnight.

Beyond laws on the election itself, lawmakers are aiming to pass bills that both the opposition and the ruling coalition have agreed to usher through before the Knesset goes to recess, especially those concerning public funding of election campaigns.

Several bills passed their first vote on Tuesday despite some last-minute disputes between coalition and opposition leaders. These include a bill proposing Israel's first-ever national framework to tackle the climate crisis, as well as another providing better legal aid to survivors of sex offenses and human trafficking. There are about 50 remaining bills up for a vote through Wednesday.

However, one specific legislation might hinder the passage of the bill on the Knesset dissolution. Israeli Finance Minister Avigdor Lieberman of Yisrael Beitenu and Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli of the Labor Party are threatening to oppose the bill that would dissolve the Knesset if the opposition doesn’t agree to pass legislation that would expedite the construction of the Tel Aviv metropolitan area light rail network.

“We intend to file hundreds of objections on the bill dissolving the Knesset,” Lieberman said on Twitter, threatening a filibuster.

Funding for the light rail project has already been approved and the construction of the network, which will provide a major upgrade to public transportation infrastructure in the Tel Aviv area, is well underway.

The bill is designed to ensure that the 150-billion-shekel ($44 billion) project will remain a national priority, expedite construction and overcome the hurdles involved in a project that involves so many agencies and municipalities.

Meanwhile, the Arab-majority Joint List are also filing several objections to the bill in an attempt to postpone the vote until Friday, when emergency regulations extending Israeli civil law to the West Bank settlers automatically expire.

After the Knesset is formally dissolved, it will be practically impossible to pass new legislation, apart from highly exceptional cases, until the next government forms. Bills that pass the first of three votes before that point can be picked up by the next Knesset after it is sworn in later this year.

Following the Knesset's dissolution, the role of prime minister will automatically be transferred to current foreign minister, Yair Lapid, who will also keep his portfolio as FM. The caretaker government he'll lead will have limited powers through the next election, the exact date of which – either Oct. 25 or Nov. 1 – lawmakers are currently hashing out.

The Knesset does not have to vote again on his appointment and Lapid will not need to be sworn in, as he already did so when he was appointed alternate prime minister at Naftali Bennett's swearing-in. A formal ceremony at the Prime Minister's Office is planned for Thursday.

Lapid has said that, after taking office, he will not continue living in his Tel Aviv home in light of the heavy public criticism levied at Bennett for staying in his private home as prime minister – even though he was asked not to move into the official residence by the Shin Bet security service.

Lapid, too, can't live in the official prime minister's residence on Jerusalem's Balfour Street, as the Shin Bet says some necessary "security adjustments" cannot be carried out while a prime minister is living there. Instead, Lapid will stay in a much smaller nearby apartment that was previously used by Balfour security guards.

Bennett and Lapid moved last week to dissolve the Knesset after infighting made their ruling coalition no longer tenable. A year ago, they had ended former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's record reign by forming a rare alliance of rightists, liberals and Arab parties, which – while ultimately faltering – lasted longer than many had expected.

The forthcoming election campaign has already become dominated by the prospect of a possible comeback by Netanyahu, who hopes to win a sixth term in office despite being on trial for corruption on charges he denies. Surveys have shown his right-wing Likud party leading the polls, but still short of a governing majority despite support of allied religious and nationalist parties.

Gili Melnitcki and Reuters contributed to this report.

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