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Tuesday November 30, 2021

Israel parliament speaker faces deadline on vote for replacement

By AFP
March 25, 2020

OCCUPIED-AL-QUDS: The speaker of Israel’s parliament faced mounting criticism and a looming deadline on Tuesday after he failed to comply with a supreme court order to schedule a vote on choosing his replacement.

Israel’s top court had on Monday ordered parliament leader Yuli Edelstein, a close ally of right-wing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, to hold a speakership vote by Wednesday.

Prior to the ruling, the court had asked Edelstein, a member of Netanyahu’s Likud party, if he would accept the attorney general’s stance that the vote should be held "as soon as possible," with Wednesday being the deadline.

Edelstein replied that he rejected the notion of the court setting him an "ultimatum," as judges had no right to dictate business in parliament, the Knesset. The court countered with an order that he must allow the vote by Wednesday.

Edelstein has not publicly commented on the supreme court order, but senior Likud members, including Justice Minister Amir Ohana, backed his initial defiance of Israel’s highest court. The standoff comes after Israel’s third inconclusive election in less than a year.

In the March 2 vote, anti-Netanyahu forces claimed 62 seats in the 120-member Knesset, with the premier’s right-wing bloc and its religious allies claiming 58 seats. The leader of the centrist Blue and White Party, ex-military chief Benny Gantz, was tasked with forming a government last week.

But that proved impossible following the last two votes given deep divisions within the anti-Netanyahu camp and there was no guarantee Gantz would fare better this time. In its order to Edelstein, the supreme court said it was necessary to pick a speaker because "no less than three elections have been held in the past year."

Writing in the Ma’ariv newspaper on Tuesday, influential political columnist Ben Caspit called Edelstein’s stated intention to defy the court a "formative moment." "Remember this day," Caspit said. "This marks the end for all of us and the beginning of anarchy," he added, expressing astonishment that the speaker and justice minister publicly said "there is no need to respect court rulings."

Netanyahu is facing criminal corruption charges and his Knesset rivals have said they want to pass a bill that would bar anyone under criminal indictment from serving as prime minister. Netanyahu denies the allegations.

But removing Edelstein as speaker would likely help expedite that legislation. Meanwhile, Netanyahu on Tuesday re-issued his call to Gantz to form a unity government to help tackle the coronavirus pandemic.

"Benny Gantz, this is a crucial time for national leadership and responsibility... We both know that the gaps between us are small," he said. "Let’s meet now and set up a government today. I’m waiting for you."