Rivlin Selects Gantz to Form Next Government; Speaker Shuts Knesset As Vote Looms to Remove Netanyahu as Interim Prime Minister; Likud, Blue and White, Discuss Unity Government

Although Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party won 36 seats in Israel’s most recent election, it was Benny Gantz who received the nod from Israel’s president, Reuven Rivlin, to form a government. Gantz received the endorsement of 61 parliamentarians. Rivlin urged Gantz and Netanyahu to meet and discuss the possibility of forming a unity government. Gantz received endorsements from both Avigdor Liberman and his Yisrael Beiteinu party and the Arab Joint List party. Netanyahu has urged Gantz to form an emergency government with him to address the COVID-19 pandemic. Reported by i24 News. Read more…

Rivlin also swore in members of the new Knesset. He swore them in in groups of three as a precaution against the spread of the COVID-19 virus. In a plea for Knesset members to work together, Rivlin said, “Politics is far from perfect. But politics is meant to be the art of the possible. Often, politics needs to be the art of compromise… At the heart of democracy lies the understanding that what often creates the requirement for compromise, to make deep and painful concessions, is the will of the people itself.” Reported by i24 News. Read more…

After the 23rd Knesset was sworn in, the first bill put forward was a bill to remove incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The new bill, put forward by MK Oded Forer, would require an interim prime minister to step down if under indictment. Netanyahu is currently under indictment on charges of bribery, fraud, and breach of trust. The Blue and White party followed a similar path, putting forward three bills limiting a prime minister’s tenure to two terms, halting the tenure of a prime minister who has been indicted, and barring the formation of a government by a Knesset member who is under indictment. Reported by i24 News.Read more…

But before any progress or discussion on the bills could be made, Knesset speaker Yuri Edelstein abruptly closed the Knesset until the following week, citing coronavirus concerns. The move enraged members seeking the ouster of Netanyahu. Reported by the AP. Read more…

The move to close the Knesset also seemed to be in response to Blue and White’s refusal to give Likud equal representation on the “Arrangements Committee,” which oversees the creation of the Knesset’s other committees as well as overseeing the formation and operation of the parliament. The committee could also allow the removal of Edelstein as speaker, a position he has held since 2013. The Knesset’s legal advisor, however, Eval Yinon, says that Edelstein will not be able to continue the closure of the Knesset past Monday the 23rd. In an opinion, he said that if the committee is not formed by the beginning of the week, it must be put to a vote before the full Knesset, a vote Likud will likely lose. Reported by The Times of Israel. Read more…

Israel’s president, Rueven Rivlin, called Edelstein and told him to reopen the parliament, saying, “A Knesset that is out of action harms the ability of the State of Israel to function well and responsibly in an emergency. We must not let this crisis, as serious as it is, harm our democratic system.” He also asked Edelstein to ensure ongoing parliamentary action even during the coronavirus crisis, cautioning, “We must do everything to deal with the crisis, being careful not to grievously harm our democratic system.” In response, Edelstein stated Israel’s “democratic process and parliamentary oversight” will only be restored when “we are prepared for it.” Reported by The Times of Israel. Read more…

The day before, Interim Justice Minister Amir Ohana, a Netanyahu appointee, closed Israel’s justice ministry, effectively postponing Netanyahu’s trial, which was set to start on Tuesday, March 24. Reported by Haaretz. Read more…

Yair Lapid, a Blue and White MK, blasted the interim government’s actions. Receiving criticism in return, Lapid tweeted, “the instruction [not] to leave home is not the problem; the fact that it is given by an illegitimate government is definitely a problem.” Lapid also posted a video, saying, “It’s possible that it doesn’t really interest you with all this coronavirus in the air, but as of today, you no longer live in a democracy.” Noting that the Justice Ministry was closed on an order without anyone knowing about it, Lapid continued, “The legislature was closed today, illegally. … The previous Knesset speaker, who wasn’t elected to the position [in the current legislature], closed the Knesset. Before that, he refused the request of a majority of the Knesset, 62 MKs, to pick a new speaker instead of him.” Reported by The Times of Israel. Read more…

Nonetheless, the Likud and the Blue and White have been holding talks for days with the goal of establishing a unity government. Blue and White has reportedly demanded several top ministries, including the Foreign, Justice, Public Security, and Culture Ministries. The two parties have reportedly agreed to have former IDF chief-of-staff Gabi Ashkenazi serve as defense minister. But the two parties are reported to still be dickering over how long current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will serve until Benny Gantz takes over. Reported by The Times of Israel. Read more…

In the end, Blue and White may not be able to hold it together. Three party members—Omer Yanklelevitch, Zvi Hauser, and Yoaz Hendel—are reported to be openly opposed to a government supported by the Arab Joint List.  Orly Levy, from the Gesher party, expressed a similar concern. Yair Lapid meanwhile blasted Netanyahu, saying, “What country has an interim government that forces its people to stay at home.” Three MK members have been quarantined, including two from Blue and White. Reported by Breaking Israel News. Read more…