Blue and White vows to go to High Court if no vote to choose Knesset speaker

Party says Edelstein’s decision to block vote to replace him was made without authority and in conflict of interest

Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein gives a press statement in the Knesset, January 12, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein gives a press statement in the Knesset, January 12, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Blue and White party on Monday warned Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein that it would petition the High Court of Justice if he blocks a vote on electing a new speaker.

Edelstein said Sunday that he would prevent Blue and White from convening the plenum to vote on replacing him, claiming it would doom talks on a unity government between Likud and Blue and White.

In a letter to Edelstein, Blue and White said that the speaker “has no authority to stop the convening” of the Knesset, and that his decision was motivated by a personal interest to remain speaker, tainting it by a “concrete conflict of interest.”

Blue and White, in a Friday letter to Edelstein, informed him of its intent to hold a vote on the identity of the new speaker shortly after all 120 MKs are officially sworn in Monday, following the March 2 election.

The move by Blue and White was seen as a power play ahead of coalition-building attempts, as the party believes it can secure a majority in the new legislature for its leader, Benny Gantz, and take the reins of parliament from Likud for the first time in more than a decade.

Control of the Knesset speaker position would give the opposition parties more power to advance legislation, including bills that would prevent a person facing criminal charges from forming a government — effectively disqualifying Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from doing so.

Blue and White parliament member Meir Cohen speaks during a Knesset discussion on a bill to dissolve the parliament, May 29, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Blue and White was widely expected to propose its MK Meir Cohen as speaker. Its candidate was expected to have the backing of Yisrael Beytenu and Labor-Meretz, as well as much or all of the Joint List. The position of Gesher’s Orly Levy-Abekasis remains unclear, after she declared she would not recommend Gantz as premier.

In his statement Sunday, Edelstein voiced support for the formation of a unity government of Likud and Blue and White, and claimed replacing him in the plenum would doom such efforts.

“Hasty political actions, like choosing a permanent Knesset speaker and advancing controversial legislation, aim to shut down the possibility of unity that the people want,” said Edelstein, who has held the post since 2013.

“The time for petty politics is over. I won’t enable this unconventional step meant to clear the way for a power grab in the legislature,” he added.

Blue and White sent a letter to Knesset legal adviser Eyal Yinon on Sunday night, asking him to weigh in on the legality of Edelstein’s maneuver.

In a separate letter to Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, Edelstein, Yinon, and Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, the party argued that the Knesset’s plenary and committees should be staffed and fully operational despite the coronavirus pandemic, asking the Health Ministry to exclude parliament from the restrictions barring gatherings of more than 10 people to stem the outbreak.

Edelstein’s statement came a short while after Gantz received 61 recommendations from lawmakers, compared to 58 for Netanyahu, and was given the first shot at forming a coalition by President Reuven Rivlin.

Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz addresses supporters at the party’s post-election event in Tel Aviv on March 3, 2020. (Gali Tibbon/AFP)

The president summoned both men to a meeting on Sunday night in an effort to push for a unity government between both parties.

Netanyahu’s Likud won 36 Knesset seats in the national election — the third vote within a year — compared to Blue and White’s 33, but the Likud leader’s right-wing bloc again failed to muster a parliamentary majority.

The only realistic path to a coalition appears to be a unity government of Blue and White and Likud, but attempts to bring the sides together after the September election failed over disagreements on who would serve as prime minister first and Netanyahu’s looming corruption trial.

More recently, Netanyahu invited Gantz for talks on an “emergency national government” to deal with the burgeoning coronavirus crisis. The pandemic has also prompted a two-month delay of Netanyahu’s criminal trial, which had been set to open this week, after the Justice Ministry declared a state of emergency in the courts.

Last week, Blue and White sought to create a center-left minority government backed on the outside by the Joint List, a controversial prospect that before the election, Gantz vowed he would not pursue. Vocal opposition by rightist members of Blue and White, MKs Zvi Hauser and Yoaz Hendel, along with Labor-Gesher-Meretz’s Levy-Abekasis, who vowed to vote against a minority government, cast doubt on the likelihood of that scenario.

The 120 members of Knesset elected to office earlier this month were sworn in to parliament in batches of three on Monday in order to comply with restrictions on the size of gatherings, amid a national campaign to stem the spread of the deadly coronavirus.

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