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Israeli Parliament to hold crucial votes

What happened: The Knesset will reconvene today for a series of crucial votes, potentially deepening Israel’s stalemate. The Blue-White party and its allies, who hold a 61-seat majority in the 120 seat Knesset, intend to take control of key committees and appoint a new speaker. Likud and its right-wing allies (58 seats) are threatening to boycott the votes.

  • Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein (Likud) dispersed parliament last week, just two days after it was sworn in, without allowing votes on any key issues. Blue and White petitioned the Supreme Court to force Edelstein to allow the votes and a decision is expected shortly.
  • Blue and White want to form a new Knesset Arrangements Committee that will reflect its working majority in the Knesset – the committee creates all other parliamentary committees – that would in turn reflect the balance of power and seats in the Knesset. Likud opposed the moves and demanded equal representation on all committees.
  • Blue and White then intend to form the Foreign and Defence Committee, the Finance Committee, and the special Coronavirus Committee, in order to provide better oversight over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s caretaker government.
  • After that, and contingent on the Supreme Court’s decision, Blue and White intend to nominate their Knesset member Meir Cohen to the speaker’s post.
  • Netanyahu and other Likud officials have said that replacing Edelstein would “kill the unity government [option with Blue and White] and would necessarily lead to fourth elections.”
  • Blue and White leader Benny Gantz, in response, did not back down from the ultimatum, saying last night: “Our democracy will never be held hostage by petty politics and will never be subject to negotiation.”

Context: Neither Netanyahu nor Gantz have a clear path to form a government. The country has also been thrown into a state of emergency due to the coronavirus outbreak, fuelling calls on all sides for a national unity/emergency government between Likud and Blue and White.

  • Negotiations between the two sides are proceeding in fits and starts. Netanyahu on Saturday night laid out his version of the incipient deal: eighteen months for him as prime minister, to be followed by Gantz for eighteen months.
  • Gantz, in a Friday evening interview, did not rule out serving in a Netanyahu in government – a major reversal for him due in large part to the national crisis. Such a move is thought to be unpopular amongst other Blue and White leaders.
  • The Knesset moves outlined above are meant, inter alia, to provide Blue and White with some leverage in the ongoing unity talks with Likud, with the hope of softening Netanyahu’s position regarding a few key details, including the identity of a future Justice Minister.
  • The anti-Netanyahu majority has also threatened to pass laws disqualifying an indicted Prime Minister from running in elections, possibly impacting Netanyahu’s candidacy in any fourth election.
  • Yisrael Beitenu leader Avigdor Lieberman blasted Netanyahu in a column in Yediot Ahronot this morning saying: “The vital need of every democratic country for checks and balances is of no interest to [Netanyahu]. His hysteria and fear of the possibility that the Knesset speaker might be replaced, the threats and verbal bullying that we have heard come from his mouth as he conditions any progress towards forming a unity government on not replacing the speaker, only proves just how vital it is to making that replacement.”

Looking ahead: The Supreme Court decision on whether a speaker vote can be held will be key and it is likely to rule in favour of Blue and White although an actual vote isn’t expected until later this week.

  • After Blue and White complete their takeover of Knesset procedure it remains to be seen whether Likud will follow through on its threat to break off coalition talks.
  • Netanyahu’s right wing ultra-orthodox allies again signed a “loyalty pledge” to Netanyahu, indicating that they would not support any candidate for Prime Minister if Blue and White passed legislation disqualifying Netanyahu from standing as Prime Minister in a future election.