Despite most of the media’s focus being on COVID-19, the political scene got contentious this week when Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, defying a High Court of Justice ruling demanding he convene a vote on his replacement, resigned instead. Edelstein closed the Knesset because the Blue and White party would have brought a vote to replace him. However, he was really protecting Prime Minister Netanyahu—because once they replace Edelstein, the plan is to vote that no Knesset member under indictment could serve as Prime Minister, effectively causing Netanyahu to resign.
[Pic: PM Netanyahu with Esther Hayat, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Israel. She wrote the opinion in the 5-0 decision to compel Yuli Edelstein to reopen the Knesset. Photo credit GPO/Amos Ben Gershom]
After Edelstein, instead shut down the Knesset, our Supreme Court demanded he reopened it, as both sides said the other was attacking the very fabric of democry in Israel. Rather than obey the court’s order, Edelstein said his resignation would not go into effect for 48 hours, leaving the Knesset closed for another two days.
“Israeli democracy appears to have fallen off a cliff. In the middle of the worst global health crisis in memory,” Times of Israel Editor David Horovitz wrote.
Despite getting the nod to take a first shot at forming a government, Benny Gantz, leader of the Blue and White party, is no closer to getting a chance to do so. With the support of 61 of the 120 Knesset members planning to elect Meir Cohen of Blue and White to be speaker, Gantz would then assume control of the parliamentary agenda—but neither he nor Bibi have the votes to form a government.
Edelstein said he was standing on principle.
“I cannot carry out the ruling because it goes against my conscience. That’s why I announced my resignation,” he said. “It will come into effect in 48 hours and after that whoever is appointed [speaker] can make any decision he finds right to make in accordance with his judgment.”
Labor chief Amir Peretz, the most senior member of the Knesset, will replace him as interim speaker.
There have been talks of Gantz and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu forming a unity government, but opposition leaders are saying that Netanyahu has been orchestrating Edelstein’s moves in a last-ditch effort to maintain his power.
Publicly, Netanyahu has called for Gantz to form a unity government.
“Benny Gantz, this is a test for national leadership and responsibility,” Netanyahu said on Twitter. “Israeli citizens need a unity government to act to save their lives and livelihoods. This is not the time for a fourth election. We both know that the gaps between us are small and can be overcome. Let’s meet now and set up a government today. I am waiting for you.”
If Gantz gains a foothold in parliament, his party is considering passing a law to freeze the political situation in Israel for six months to deal with the coronavirus crisis, according to one report. That would leave him at the helm. Gantz argued that there is no reason he shouldn’t be able to lead immediately despite Netanyahu having led the crisis these past few weeks.
“There is some expectation to join [a unity government] under Netanyahu, as if that is the only alternative,” Gantz said. “I have overseen wars. We know how to handle national crises as well as they do.”
But most Israelis would prefer Bibi continue as he has more experience with international crises than Gantz and has relationships with world leaders everywhere.