Knesset Speaker Makes Independence Day Deal With Netanyahu

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FILE PHOTO: Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein, February 2018.
FILE PHOTO: Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein, February 2018.Credit: Yitzhak Harari/Knesset spokesman's office

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will light a torch and give a speech at next week’s Israel Independence Day ceremony, under a deal that ended a long-running spat between him and Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein.

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The deal, which ended Edelstein’s threat that the Knesset would boycott the ceremony if the prime minister spoke, was reached Sunday evening by Netanyahu, Edelstein and Culture Minister Miri Regev. The latter is responsible for the ceremony by virtue of her position. 

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The torch Netanyahu lights will be in addition to the 12 whose lighters had previously been announced. He also agreed to give a shorter speech than he had originally planned. This enabled both sides to claim victory: Netanyahu will speak during the prime-time event, but Edelstein, who hadn’t wanted him to speak at all, will still give the keynote address, as the Knesset speaker traditionally has.

Edelstein’s initial position was that Netanyahu shouldn’t have any role in the ceremony at all, which put him at odds with both Netanyahu and Regev. Sunday morning, however, he proposed a compromise: Netanyahu would light a torch but not speak. A speech, he argued, would be a “significant change” in the ceremony and would undermine the Knesset’s traditional leading role in it.

But at a meeting that evening, he made the additional concession of allowing Netanyahu to give a short speech.

In previous years, Netanyahu has sent a recorded greeting but not participated in person. The one exception was on Israel’s 50th Independence Day in 1998, when he did participate in the ceremony, but not by giving a speech. Instead, he read a short section of the Declaration of Independence.

Before Sunday’s agreement was reached, the Symbols and Ceremonies Committee, which Regev chairs, had been preparing for the possibility that neither Edelstein nor the Knesset Guard would attend. If that happened, the plan was to replace the Knesset Guard with Israel Defense Forces soldiers.

In previous years, the Knesset Guard has served as the honor guard welcoming the Knesset speaker when he arrives at the start of the ceremony. Last year, it also participated in marching drills together with IDF soldiers.