Israeli Left merges as Knesset debates Netanyahu immunity

What happened: Israel’s Labour-Gesher and Meretz parties have announced they will run together in the 2 March general election. In addition, the Knesset’s legal advisor gave the green light for the formation of a parliamentary committee to debate Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s immunity request.

  • The move by Labour-Gesher and Meretz is a “technical merger” to ensure both left wing parties pass the 3.25 per cent electoral threshold to win seats in the election.
  • Meretz received 5 places in the top 11 of the joint party list, including former IDF deputy chief of staff Yair Golan. Stav Shaffir, a popular former Labour parliamentarian who ran with Meretz in the last election, was not included in the list. Labour leader Amir Peretz and Gesher leader Orly Levy-Abuksis were given the two top spots.
  • The Blue and White party announced they would work to set up the Knesset’s Arrangements Committee today – the body tasked with forming the Knesset’s House Committee which debates immunity requests by parliamentarians.
  • The Knesset’s legal adviser yesterday said that Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein (Likud) did not have the authority to block such a move. Edelstein in a press conference said the process was “polluted” but that he would not work to actively block the formation of the House Committee.

Context: Public pressure had been mounting on Labour-Gesher and Meretz to join forces for the first time in their history. Recent polls put both parties just above the electoral threshold.

If one (or both) failed to make it into the next Knesset that would be a net loss for the centre-left bloc, theoretically helping Benjamin Netanyahu retain power. In the 17 September election Labour-Gesher won 6 seats and Democratic Union won five.

  • In the Knesset, Netanyahu’s bid to delay his immunity request until after the upcoming election, when he might have a majority to grant him immunity, appeared to be faltering. Blue and White, along with other anti-Netanyahu factions, hold a majority in the current Knesset – they will almost certainly reject the prime minister’s request.
  • Likud yesterday continued to criticise the Knesset legal advisor, Eyal Yinon, for a purported “conflict of interest” relating to his partner working in the State Prosecutor’s Office. Edelstein said forming the House Committee now was “a terrible mistake” that would turn the Knesset “into an arena of cheap election propaganda.”
  • Likud has vowed to delay the entire process via repeat petitions to the Supreme Court. There is a broad legal consensus that any decision on Netanyahu’s immunity cannot come too close to election day.
  • But if the Knesset does reject Netanyahu’s immunity request then that would clear the way for his indictments for bribery, fraud and breach of trust to be formally filed in the Jerusalem District Court and for a date to be set for his trial.

Looking ahead: Blue and White are taking measures to form the House Committee as soon as possible and will likely have enough support to reject Netanyahu’s request for immunity. The committee will also have to debate a request from former Welfare Minister Haim Katz (Likud) who has been indicted on various corruption charges. Ahead of Wednesday’s deadline for the final submission of party lists, the question remains whether the Israeli right – The New Right, Jewish Home, National Union, and Jewish Power – will unite as well.