Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit said Wednesday that Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein’s resignation should not prevent parliament from holding an immediate vote on his successor as ordered by the High Court of Justice.
Mandelblit stated the position in a legal opinion responding to a petition filed by the Movement for Quality Government, which demanded that an interim Knesset speaker be appointed already on Wednesday.
“Even a notice of resignation does not allow for ignoring a court order,” the attorney general stated.
“Take every step necessary, including announcing that Edelstein’s term is immediately null and void and that the most senior Knesset member will be appointed speaker,” Mandelblit wrote to the High Court.
“Anything in order to give expression to the basic and obvious principle of the fundamental duty to obey court rulings,” he continued, blasting Edelstein for resigning rather than agreeing to obey the court’s ruling.
The High Court convened Wednesday evening in order to determine whether to hold Edelstein in contempt of court for refusing to hold the vote on a new speaker.
Edelstein’s Wednesday morning resignation sparked a constitutional crisis as he accused the court of meddling in Israel’s parliament, refused to schedule a vote on his successor and shuttered the Knesset.
The Knesset’s legal adviser, Eyal Yinon, subsequently told Edelstein that his resignation did not free him from the obligation to call the plenum vote for Wednesday, adding that if he didn’t do so he would be in contempt of the court ruling.
Yinon was later joined by Mandelblit, who informed the High Court and all sides to the contempt petition that in his legal opinion, Edelstein must obey the court ruling.
Addressing the High Court on Wednesday, Yinon said, “For 24 years I have been in front of this court and represent the various state authorities. I have never come with such a heavy heart. This is an event that surprised me. Unprecedented in its gravity. Breaking norms between the legislature and the judiciary.”
Yinon said he had “failed to convince the Knesset speaker that even if he resigns, the matter will be brought to the Knesset as the order directs.”
Edelstein, who has served as speaker since 2013, said that his resignation would not go into effect for another 48 hours, asserting that the vote on his successor would therefore have to wait.
Edelstein will likely be replaced temporarily by the longest-serving member of the Knesset, Labor’s Amir Peretz, who will serve as interim speaker until a new candidate is picked. But it was unclear whether the Likud lawmaker could vacate his position to Peretz before his resignation took effect.
Edelstein would almost surely have lost his job in a vote had he not resigned, since an alliance of 61 MKs led by Blue and White leader Benny Gantz intends to back Gantz loyalist Meir Cohen for the post. Blue and White would then gain control of the parliamentary agenda.
The High Court had ruled unanimously on Monday night that Edelstein must hold a vote by Wednesday to elect a successor. In its devastating decision, it accused him of undermining democracy by refusing to do so.
“The continued refusal to allow the Knesset to vote on the election of a permanent speaker is undermining the foundations of the democratic process,” the court’s president, Justice Esther Hayut, wrote in a damning indictment of Edelstein’s behavior on Monday night, ordering him to schedule a vote on the speaker’s job by Wednesday.
The Knesset “is not a cheerleader for the government,” she also wrote, dismissing Edelstein’s argument that the election of a permanent speaker required clarity over the nature of the incoming government. The reverse was true, she noted. “The Knesset is sovereign.”
Gantz was tasked last Monday by President Reuven Rivlin with forming Israel’s next government, after 61 of the 120 MKs backed him for the post. But not all of those 61 — 15 of whom are from the mainly Arab Joint List — would necessarily agree to sit together in a coalition, and thus neither Gantz nor Netanyahu has a clear path to a majority.
Before the court issued its Monday ruling, Edelstein had informed the panel of five justices that he would only schedule a vote “when the political situation becomes clear.”
“I won’t agree to ultimatums,” Edelstein told the court. “I can’t agree because this means that the Knesset’s agenda will be determined by the High Court and not by the Speaker of the Knesset, who is assigned this role.”
Raoul Wootliff contributed to this report.