As the 23rd Knesset was being sworn in Monday, Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party and Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu party filed their first bills, aimed at ousting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Blue and White announced that it had filed three pieces of legislation. The first would limit a prime minister to two terms in office. Netanyahu has served a total of four terms, plus two terms as transitional prime minister, meaning the law would disqualify him from continuing to serve.
The second would bar people facing criminal charges from serving as ministers or prime ministers.
The third would prohibit a lawmaker under indictment from being tasked with forming a government.
Days after the March 2 election, Blue and White said it was aiming to pass a law seeking to bar an indicted MK from forming a government. Liberman said at the time that he would back the law, and members of the Labor-Gesher-Meretz and Joint List parties also expressed support.
Likud reacted to the law bills by accusing the rival party of “hindering” negotiations to form a unity government.
“Blue and White’s behavior is hindering the negotiations right from the get-go,” Likud said. “It is malicious and irresponsible and comes during a national and international crisis” — a reference to the coronavirus pandemic.
“Outwardly they are presenting a facade as if they are willing to form a unity government, and in practice they are promoting personal, anti-democratic and retroactive laws with the sole purpose of thwarting the will of over 2.5 million citizens,” it said. “Such things aren’t even done in Iran or Turkey. That is not how you behave if you really want to achieve unity.”
Earlier Monday, a bill targeting Netanyahu was filed by Yisrael Beytenu MK Oded Forer, with Liberman’s backing.
According to the proposed law, the Knesset would have the power to oust a sitting prime minister in a transitional government who has been indicted, with a regular majority in a secret ballot.
Netanyahu has been heading a transitional government since the government dissolved in late 2018 and elections were called for April 2019. That election and two subsequent ones, the latest one earlier this month, have yet to yield a permanent new government.
The proposed legislation is seen mainly as leverage in the coalition negotiations, sending a message to Netanyahu that the bloc opposing him has the ability to take action to remove him from power and seeking to push him to compromise.
Yisrael Beytenu’s draft also says any lawmaker would be able file a request to end the tenure of a prime minister facing criminal charges. The House Committee (or the Arrangements Committee in case of a transitional government) would then have a week to hold a secret ballot on whether to recommend that the Knesset accept the bill, and then the Knesset would vote, also in a secret ballot.
The stated reason for the secret ballot was “to ensure that Knesset members vote according to their personal opinion rather than party considerations and coalition pressure.”
The government would then choose a new transitional prime minister among the party members of the ousted premier.
Offering Likud’s first response to Yisrael Beytenu’s bill, Culture Minister Miri Regev told Channel 12 it was “a despicable, personal and anti-democratic law against the prime minister. There is a feeling that the left has the right to do anything.”
Gantz on Monday was tapped by President Reuven Rivlin to form the government after receiving the endorsement of a majority of lawmakers.
His announcement came shortly after Liberman joined the Joint List and Labor-Gesher-Meretz parties in endorsing Gantz for prime minister. With the nod given by Liberman during consultations with Rivlin, Gantz picked up 61 of 120 recommendations, compared to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s 58 endorsements.
Netanyahu’s Likud won 36 Knesset seats in the March election compared to Blue and White’s 33, but the Likud leader’s right-wing bloc again failed to muster a parliamentary majority.
Liberman’s backing for Gantz marked an unlikely alliance between the hawkish ex-defense minister, who has long condemned Arab lawmakers as “terrorist sympathizers,” and the predominantly Arab Joint List, with both aiming to unseat Netanyahu.
On Sunday, Netanyahu went public with a pair of alternative offers for a unity government with Gantz, urging the de facto opposition chairman to choose either to serve under him in a six-month emergency government or replace him after two years as part of a four-year rotational coalition.
Rivlin, after September’s election, proposed a unity government between the two, with Netanyahu serving as prime minister for some six months before being replaced by Gantz. While both took a stab at forming a government, neither succeeded, leading to the elections in March, the third in under a year.
Rivlin proposed a similar plan this time based on the previous offer, but reportedly giving Netanyahu a full year as prime minister before handing the baton to Gantz, according to the Kan public broadcaster.