What happened: The Israeli Supreme Court has ruled that the Knesset must hold a vote today and elect a new speaker after Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein’s shock resignation yesterday.
- Edelstein resigned rather than comply with an earlier court order to hold the vote because the Likud and its allies faced certain defeat. In an unprecedented move, Edelstein closed parliament, defying the Knesset’s legal adviser and the Attorney General.
- Edelstein said the Supreme Court’s original decision was “a one-sided extremist interpretation” and accused the Supreme Court of “crude and arrogant meddling.”
- Chief Justice Esther Hayut said in her ruling: “There has never been such an occurrence in this country where a leadership figure publicly and defiantly refused to uphold a court order.”
- Earlier last night, in a rare live televised address President Rivlin (a former Knesset speaker) said it was “inconceivable” that a leader would not obey a court ruling. He said: “Now that the Speaker of the Knesset has resigned, I am sure that the order of the High Court of Justice will be implemented and Israeli democracy will emerge strengthened and more resilient.” He appealed to party leaders: “To find a way to present a shared leadership, a responsible leadership, for Israeli society in its time of crisis.”
- The Supreme court appointed Labour leader Amir Peretz as temporary speaker to oversee the vote.
Context: Earlier this week the Court ruled that Edelstein, who had already adjourned the Knesset, had to hold the vote to elect a new Speaker by Wednesday.
- Edelstein is the first ever speaker to resign from the post and has compounded the constitutional crisis. By law his resignation (as with all MKs) takes effect after 48 hours but the court suspended his powers and temporarily transferred them to Amir Peretz.
- Peretz was chosen as he is the longest serving member of the Knesset, a convention inherited from the UK parliament.
- Chief Justice Esther Hayut said that upholding the rule of law was even more crucial at a time when the Government has imposed restrictions on freedom of movement to combat the coronavirus.
- Dr Amir Fuchs from the Israel Democracy Institute said: “The Supreme Court not only did not ‘interfere’ with the Knesset’s work, on the contrary – it protected it and the right of the majority to act and elect a permanent Speaker of the Knesset.”
- Last week Blue and White leader Benny Gantz was asked by the President to form a governing coalition, after a slim majority (61 of the 120 MKs) supported him. However he can’t build a coalition Government because Yisrael Beitenu will refuse to serve in a Government with the Joint (Arab) List or join a minority Government reliant on its support.
- If Blue and White can elect a speaker from their party it will allow them to take control of the Knesset agenda and procedure which significantly strengthens their position in negotiations to form a national unity government with the Likud.
Looking ahead: Peretz will oversee the Speaker vote later today and Blue and White MK Meir Cohen is expected to be elected. Cohen is a former Mayor of Dimona and has served in the Knesset since 2013, originally as part of Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party.
- Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz spoke on the phone last night after the President’s address and agreed that their negotiating teams will meet later today to discuss forming a national emergency government.